Organic carbon concentrations and transport in small mountain rivers, Panama

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Tropical small mountainous rivers (SMRs) are increasingly recognized for their role in the global export of dissolved organic carbon (DOC) to the oceans. Here we utilize the Isthmus of Panama as an ideal place to provide first-order estimates of DOC yields across a wide assemblage of bedrock lithologies and land cover practices. Samples for dissolved organic carbon (DOC) analysis were collected across Panama along an E-W transect from the central Panama area to the Costa Rican border for 24 mainstem rivers, 3 large tributary rivers, and one headwater stream. Sampling occurred during both the wet and the dry seasons. DOC concentrations during the wet season are higher than during the dry season in all but three of the rivers. Concentrations vary greatly from river to river and from season to season, with values as low as 0.64 mg l-1 to greater than >25 mg l-1 with the highest concentrations observed for the rivers draining Tertiary marine sedimentary rocks in the Burica and Azuero peninsulas. DOC yields from Panamanian rivers (2.29-7.97 tons/km2/y) are similar to or slightly lower than those determined for other tropical SMR systems. Areas underlain by Tertiary aged sediments exhibited significantly higher mean DOC yields compared to their igneous counterparts, despite maintaining substantially lower aboveground carbon densities, suggesting the important influence of lithology. Finally, regression analyses between DOC yields and select watershed parameters revealed a negative and statistically significant relationship with maximum and mean gradient suggesting lower soil retention times may be linked to lower DOC yields.

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Applied Geochemistry

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