Optical properties of dissolved organic matter highlight peatland-like properties in a constructed wetland
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Constructing novel peatland ecosystems can help to restore the long-term carbon accumulating properties of northern soil systems that have been lost through resource extraction. Although mining companies are legally required to restore landscapes following extraction, there are limited tools to evaluate the effectiveness of restoring peat accumulating landscapes. This study analyzed the spatial patterns of the first seven years (n = 575) of dissolved organic matter (DOM) optical characteristics from a pilot watershed built to restore boreal plains peatlands on a former open pit oil sands mine. A principal component analysis (PCA) indicated a very high degree of redundancy in absorption-florescence DOM properties (PARAFAC, HIX, FI, freshness index, SUVA, and peak A, B, C, T, wavelength, and intensity ratios) at this site. The leading principal component indicated a gradient of fresh protein rich inputs, which are highest near the upland region, to older highly degraded DOM, which is highest in the lowland closest to the outlet. Two functionally different reference peatlands, a poor-fen and bog system and a moderate-rich fen, had relatively similar optical DOM characteristics indicating a high level of decomposition at these sites. Over the first seven years, in some regions of the reconstructed lowland the DOM characteristics are becoming increasingly similar to the highly decomposed DOM observed at the reference sites. When combined with carbon flux measurements these findings indicate the potential for long term organic matter accumulation at this reconstructed site.
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