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Several mechanisms drive the heterogeneity in browning across a boreal stream network
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  • Xudan Zhu,
  • Frank Berninger,
  • Liang Chen,
  • Johannes Larson,
  • Ryan Sponseller,
  • Hjalmar Laudon
Xudan Zhu
University of Eastern Finland

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Frank Berninger
University of Eastern Finland
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Liang Chen
University of Eastern Finland
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Johannes Larson
Swedish University of Agricultural Science
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Ryan Sponseller
UmeƄ University
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Hjalmar Laudon
Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences
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Increases in dissolved organic carbon (DOC) have occurred in many freshwaters across Europe and North America over the last decades. Several mechanisms have been proposed to explain these trends, but consensus regarding the relative importance of recovery from acid deposition, climate change, and land management remains elusive. To advance our understanding of browning mechanisms, we explored DOC trends across 13 nested boreal catchments, leveraging concurrent hydrological, chemical, and terrestrial ecosystem data to quantify the contributions of different drivers on observed trends. We first identified the environmental factors related to DOC concentrations, then attributed the individual trends of DOC to potential drivers across space and time. The results showed that all catchments exhibited increased DOC trends from 2003 to 2021, but the DOC response rates differed five-fold. No single mechanism can fully explain the ongoing browning, instead the interaction of sulfate deposition, climate-related factors and site properties jointly controlled the variation in DOC trends. Specifically, the long-term increases in DOC were primarily driven by recovery from sulfate deposition, followed by terrestrial productivity, temperature, and discharge. However, catchment size and landcover type regulated the response rate of DOC trends to these drivers, creating the spatial heterogeneity in browning among the sub-catchments under similar deposition and climate forcing. Interestingly, browning has weakened in the last decade as sulfate deposition has fully recovered and other current drivers are insufficient to sustain the long-term trends. Our results highlight that multifaceted, spatially structured, and nonstationary drivers must be accounted for to predict future browning.
08 Dec 2023Submitted to ESS Open Archive
10 Dec 2023Published in ESS Open Archive