Dissolved organic carbon in eastern Canadian lakes: Novel patterns and relationships with regional and global factors

Long-term patterns in dissolved organic carbon (DOC) concentrations in 49 eastern Canadian lakes from four sites were re-examined with a~ 35-year (1980-2015) dataset. The study sites were Dorset (number of lakes, n = 8), Experimental Lakes Area (ELA, n = 4), Kejimkujik (n = 26) and Yarmouth (n = 11). Lake DOC patterns were synchronous within each site. However, comparisons of DOC patterns across sites showed that they were synchronous only between the Kejimkujik and Yarmouth locations. Hence, these two sites were pooled into a single Nova Scotia site (NS). Increases in DOC concentration were evident in Dorset, Ontario from 1988 (r2 = 0.78, p < 0.001) and NS from 2000 (r2 = 0.43, p = 0.006). DOC at the ELA in northwestern Ontario had a different pattern compared to the other sites, i.e., DOC had increased earlier (1983-2000), and then, unlike Dorset and NS, neither an increase nor decrease was detected between 2001 and 2015 (p = 0.78). Precipitation and sulfur deposition explained the greatest variance in DOC patterns at the Dorset and NS sites (i.e., precipitation: 21-49% and sulfur deposition: 24-54%). Precipitation was the most important driver of DOC at the ELA. Our results indicate that all the sites have gone through a process of increasing DOC, but at different times. The stabilizing pattern at the ELA since 2001 may suggest that DOC concentrations in ELA lakes have reached, or are approaching a new equilibrium, a phenomenon that was not observed at the other sites. Also, the increase in DOC was not always associated with declining sulfur deposition (e.g., ELA). Therefore, we conclude that there was considerable variation in DOC patterns across this large geographic region of Canada and potential drivers of these patterns were not consistent across these diverse sites.