Fluorescence-based Multi-parameter Approach to Characterize Dynamics of Organic Carbon, Faecal Bacteria and Particles at Alpine Karst Springs

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Science of The Total Environment


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Karst springs, especially in alpine regions, are important for drinking water supply but also vulnerable to contamination, especially after rainfall events. This high variability of water quality requires rapid quantification of contamination parameters. Here, we used a fluorescence-based multi-parameter approach to characterize the dynamics of organic carbon, faecal bacteria, and particles at three alpine karst springs. We used excitation emission matrices (EEMs) to identify fluorescent dissolved organic material (FDOM). At the first system, peak A fluorescence and total organic carbon (TOC) were strongly correlated (Spearman's rs of 0.949), indicating that a large part of the organic matter is related to humic-like substances. Protein-like fluorescence and cultivation-based determination of coliform bacteria also had a significant correlation with rs = 0.734, indicating that protein-like fluorescence is directly related to faecal pollution. At the second system, which has two spring outlets, the absolute values of all measured water-quality parameters were lower; there was a significant correlation between TOC and humic-like fluorescence (rs = 0.588–0.689) but coliform bacteria and protein-like fluorescence at these two springs were not correlated. Additionally, there was a strong correlation (rs = 0.571–0.647) between small particle fractions (1.0 and 2.0 μm), a secondary turbidity peak and bacteria. At one of these springs, discharge was constant despite the reaction of all other parameters to the rainfall event. Our results demonstrated that i) all three springs showed fast and marked responses of all investigated water-quality parameters after rain events; ii) a constant discharge does not necessarily mean constant water quality; iii) at high contamination levels, protein-like fluorescence is a good indicator of bacterial contamination, while at low contamination levels no correlation between protein-like fluorescence and bacterial values was detected; and iv) a combination of fluorescence measurements and particle-size analysis is a promising approach for a rapid assessment of organic contamination, especially relative to time-consuming conventional bacterial determination methods.

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