Vertical Stratification of Peat Pore Water Dissolved Organic Matter Composition in a Peat Bog in Northern Minnesota

Malak M. Tfaily, Rachel M. Wilson, William T. Cooper, Joel E. Kostka, Paul Hanson, Jeffrey P. Chanton

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

41 Scopus citations


We characterized dissolved organic matter (DOM) composition throughout the peat column at the Marcell S1 forested bog in northern Minnesota and tested the hypothesis that redox oscillations associated with cycles of wetting and drying at the surface of the fluctuating water table correlate with increased carbon, sulfur, and nitrogen turn over. We found significant vertical stratification of DOM molecular composition and excitation-emission matrix parallel factor analysis components within the peat column. In particular, the intermediate depth zone (~ 50 cm) was identified as a zone where maximum decomposition and turnover is taking place. Surface DOM was dominated by inputs from surface vegetation. The intermediate depth zone was an area of high organic matter reactivity and increased microbial activity with diagenetic formation of many unique compounds, among them polycyclic aromatic compounds that contain both nitrogen and sulfur heteroatoms. These compounds have been previously observed in coal-derived compounds and were assumed to be responsible for coal's biological activity. Biological processes triggered by redox oscillations taking place at the intermediate depth zone of the peat profile at the S1 bog are assumed to be responsible for the formation of these heteroatomic PACs in this system. Alternatively, these compounds could stem from black carbon and nitrogen derived from fires that have occurred at the site in the past. Surface and deep DOM exhibited more similar characteristics, compared to the intermediate depth zone, with the deep layer exhibiting greater input of microbially degraded organic matter than the surface suggesting that the entire peat profile consists of similar parent material at different degrees of decomposition and that lateral and vertical advection of pore water from the surface to the deeper horizons is responsible for such similarities. Our findings suggest that molecular composition of DOM in peatland pore water is dynamic and is a function of ecosystem activity, water table, redox oscillation, and pore water advection.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)479-494
Number of pages16
JournalJournal of Geophysical Research: Biogeosciences
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 2018
Externally publishedYes


  • DOM
  • EEM
  • peatland
  • pore water
  • stratification

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Soil Science
  • Forestry
  • Water Science and Technology
  • Palaeontology
  • Atmospheric Science
  • Aquatic Science
  • Ecology


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