Unraveling the size-dependent optical properties of dissolved organic matter

Urban Wünsch*, Colin Stedmon, Lars Tranvik, Francois Guillemette

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articleResearchpeer-review


The size-dependent optical properties of dissolved organic matter (DOM) from four Swedish lakes were investigated using High Performance Size Exclusion Chromatography (HPSEC) in conjunction with online characterization of absorbance (240–600 nm) and fluorescence (excitation: 275 nm, emission: 300–600 nm). The molecular size of chromophoric DOM (CDOM) was consistently higher than that of fluorescent DOM (FDOM), with an average difference of 0.37 kDa. The relative abundance of FDOM vs. CDOM ranged from 0.3 to 0.7 across lakes, and increased with decreasing average molecular size. Across sites, the CDOM spectral slopes of the large molecular size fraction were highly similar while the low molecular size fraction differed and contributed to different bulk spectral slopes. Our results indicate structural congruence of high molecular size DOM across systems while lake trophic status determined the characteristics of the low size range. Furthermore, the combination of HPSEC and parallel factor analysis (HPSEC-PARAFAC2) allowed the decomposition of DOM fluorescence chromatograms. Three humic-like components and one protein-like component with broadly overlapping molecular size distributions were identified. This overlap provides further evidence for the supramolecular assembly hypothesis since fluorophores, as revealed by PARAFAC2, occur in aggregates of overlapping molecular size. Our results further suggest a link between the molecular size of these fluorophores and the associated supramolecular assemblies. This study demonstrates the potential for HPSEC and novel mathematical approaches to provide unprecedented insights into the relationship between optical and chemical properties of DOM in aquatic systems.
Original languageEnglish
JournalLimnology and Oceanography
Issue number2
Pages (from-to)588-601
Publication statusPublished - 2018

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