Two different but complementary modelling approaches for reproducing the observed dynamics of total organic carbon (TOC) in a boreal stream are presented. One is based on a regression analysis, while the other is based on riparian soil conditions using a convolution of flow and concentration. Both approaches are relatively simple to establish and help to identify gaps in the process understanding of the TOC transport from soils to catchments runoff.
The largest part of the temporal variation of stream TOC concentrations (4–46 mg L−1) in a forested headwater stream in the boreal zone in northern Sweden may be described using a four-parameter regression equation that has runoff and transformed air temperature as sole input variables. Runoff is assumed to be a proxy for soil wetness conditions and changing flow pathways which in turn caused most of the stream TOC variation. Temperature explained a significant part of the observed inter-annual variability.
Long-term riparian hydrochemistry in soil solutions within 4 m of the stream also captures a surprisingly large part of the observed variation of stream TOC and highlights the importance of riparian soils. The riparian zone was used to reproduce stream TOC with the help of a convolution model based on flow and average riparian chemistry as input variables. There is a significant effect of wetting of the riparian soil that translates into a memory effect for subsequent episodes and thus contributes to controlling stream TOC concentrations. Situations with high flow introduce a large amount of variability into stream water TOC that may be related to memory effects, rapid groundwater fluctuations and other processes not identified so far.
Two different climate scenarios for the region based on the IPCC scenarios were applied to the regression equation to test what effect the expected increase in precipitation and temperature and resulting changes in runoff would have on stream TOC concentrations assuming that the soil conditions remain unchanged. Both scenarios resulted in a mean increase of stream TOC concentrations of between 1.5 and 2.5 mg L−1 during the snow free season, which amounts to approximately 15% more TOC export compared to present conditions. Wetter and warmer conditions in the late autumn led to a difference of monthly average TOC of up to 5 mg L−1, suggesting that stream TOC may be particularly susceptible to climate variability during this season.