Evidence for dissolved organic matter as the primary source and sink of photochemically produced hydroxyl radical in arctic surface waters†
Hydroxyl radical (˙OH) is an indiscriminate oxidant that reacts at near-diffusion-controlled rates with organic carbon. Thus, while ˙OH is expected to be an important oxidant of dissolved organic matter (DOM) and other recalcitrant compounds, the role of ˙OH in the oxidation of these compounds in aquatic ecosystems is not well known due to the poorly constrained sources and sinks of ˙OH, especially in pristine (unpolluted) natural waters. We measured the rates of ˙OH formation and quenching across a range of surface waters in the Arctic varying in concentrations of expected sources and sinks of ˙OH. Photochemical formation of ˙OH was observed in all waters tested, with rates of formation ranging from 2.6 ± 0.6 to 900 ± 100 × 10−12 M s−1. Steady-state concentrations ranged from 2 ± 1 to 290 ± 60 × 10−17 M, and overlapped with previously reported values in surface waters. While iron-mediated photo-Fenton reactions likely contributed to the observed ˙OH production, several lines of evidence suggest that DOM was the primary source and sink of photochemically produced ˙OH in pristine arctic surface waters. DOM from first-order or headwater streams was more efficient in producing ˙OH than what has previously been reported for DOM, and ˙OH formation decreased with increasing residence time of DOM in sunlit surface waters. Despite the ubiquitous formation of ˙OH in arctic surface waters observed in this study, photochemical ˙OH formation was estimated to contribute ≤4% to the observed photo-oxidation of DOM; however, key uncertainties in this estimate must be addressed before ruling out the role of ˙OH in the oxidation of DOM in these waters.
- This article is part of the themed collection: Aquatic photochemistry