Characterisation of Dissolved Organic Matter in Karst Spring Waters Using Intrinsic Fluorescence: Relationship With Infiltration Processes

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Science of the Total Environment


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From analysis of spectrophotometric properties of dissolved organic matter (OM) and the hydrochemical responses of some karst springs under different hydrologic conditions, an assessment of the origin and transfer pathway of OM present in karst spring waters, from soil and epikarst toward the spring, has been conducted for three karst aquifers in southern Spain: Alta Cadena, Sierra de Enmedio and Los Tajos. Intrinsic fluorescence (excitation–emission matrices or EEMs), together with major water chemistry (electrical conductivity, temperature, alkalinity, Cl−, Mg+ 2) and PCO2 along with natural hydrochemical tracers (TOC and NO3−), have been monitored in 19 springs which drain the three karst aquifers examined in this study. The spring water EEM spectra indicate that fulvic acid-like substances, produced in the soil as a consequence of the decomposition of OM, are the dominant fluorophores, although some of the OM appears to originate from in situ microbiological activity but could be indicative of contamination present in recharge waters from livestock. During each recharge event, TOC and NO3− concentrations increased and variations in fluorescence intensities of peaks attributed to fulvic acid-like compounds were observed. In areas with minimal soil development, spatial and temporal variations in the fluorescence intensity of fulvic acid-like substances and other fluorophores derived from microbiological activity, together with other hydrochemical parameters, provide insights into the hydrogeological functioning of karst aquifers and the infiltration velocity of water from soil and facilitate assessment of contamination vulnerability in these aquifers.


Carbonate (karst) aquifer, Dissolved organic matter, Natural hydrochemical tracers, Intrinsic fluorescence, Southern Spain

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