In the Okavango Delta in Botswana, dissolved organic matter (DOM) transport is controlled by the slow movement of an annual flood ‘pulse’ across permanently and seasonally flooded wetlands, known respectively as the Permanent Swamp and Seasonal Swamp. We studied temporal and spatial variations in fluorescence index (FI) and specific UV absorbance (SUVA) of DOM to identify DOM sources and fate during the flood. Dissolved organic carbon (DOC) concentrations ranged from 2 to 25 mg C L−1 in channels of the Delta, with seasonal floodplains having consistently higher concentrations. Chemical indices, such as DOC concentrations, conductivity, specific UV absorbance (SUVA), fluorescence, total dissolved nitrogen, and chlorophyll a, were analyzed for channel and floodplain sites in the Seasonal Swamp. DOC concentrations increased during the rising limb of the flood in the Seasonal Swamp. SUVA of whole water samples and fluorescence index (FI) of fulvic acids isolated from channel and floodplain sites changed in a manner indicating the release of DOM by leaching of plant litter during the flood. After the flood receded, DOC concentrations and fulvic acid content decreased, and microbially-derived sources of organic matter dominated. Along two river reaches, measuring over 400 km each, variations in DOC concentrations were primarily due to geomorphology, with the effects of the annual flood overprinted atop the spatial controls. Increasing downstream DOC concentrations were found to be a product of inundation of DOC-rich seasonal floodplains and evaporation-enriched waters downstream. Increasing SUVA, dissolved nitrogen, and fulvic acid content, and decreasing FI downstream suggested microbial processing of terrestrial DOM and possible release of nutrients incorporated in the DOM.
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