Immobilization of relic anthropogenic dissolved organic matter from alpine rivers in the Himalayan-Tibetan Plateau in winter

Meilian Chen*, Chaoliu Li, Chen Zeng, Fan Zhang, Peter A. Raymond, Jin Hur

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

17 Scopus citations


The Tibetan Plateau is a critical ecosystem that sensitively responds to ongoing glacier shrinkage and permafrost thaw. Dissolved organic matter (DOM) in Tibetan Alpine rivers plays pivotal roles in the biogeochemical cycling of elements and nutrients at regional and even global scales, impacting water quality, downstream environments, and climate. However, little is known about the characteristics and dynamics of DOM in these watersheds. We investigated five major Himalayan rivers in the southern Tibetan Plateau, utilizing bulk dissolved organic carbon (DOC), optical properties, and molecular formulas. We found extremely low DOC and fluorescent DOM (FDOM) levels in the rivers (average DOC: 0.25–0.87 mg L−1, FDOM: 0.02–0.05 RU) with a highly degraded molecular signature, which was enriched with heteroatomic molecular formulas (S-containing: 58–72%, N-containing: 61–86%) and condensed aromatics (31–39% vs. ∼11% in world major rivers). Further, 81–99% of the condensed aromatics was identified as dissolved black nitrogen (DBN) with multiple nitrogen atoms, typical for grassy biomass combustion. The findings highlighted potentially fast DOM remineralization leading to the release of CO2 and enriched apparently anthropogenic condensed aromatics and heteroatomic formulas in what have been considered pristine Tibetan rivers. These findings should be considered in future biogeochemical models and ecosystem management.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)97-106
Number of pages10
JournalWater Research
StatePublished - 1 Sep 2019


  • Alpine rivers
  • Anthropogenic effects
  • Himalayan-Tibetan plateau
  • dissolved organic matter


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