Spatial and seasonal controls on dissolved organic matter composition in shallow aquifers under the rapidly developing City of Patna, India

George j.l. Wilson, Chuanhe Lu, Dan j. Lapworth, Arun Kumar, Ashok Ghosh, Vahid j. Niasar, Stefan Krause, David a. Polya, Daren c. Gooddy, Laura a. Richards

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The distribution and composition of dissolved organic matter (DOM) affects numerous (bio)geochemical processes in environmental matrices including groundwater. This study reports the spatial and seasonal controls on the distribution of groundwater DOM under the rapidly developing city of Patna, Bihar (India). Major DOM constituents were determined from river and groundwater samples taken in both pre- and post-monsoon seasons in 2019, using excitation-emission matrix (EEM) fluorescence spectroscopy. We compared aqueous fluorescent DOM (fDOM) composition to satellite-derived land use data across the field area, testing the hypothesis that the composition of groundwater DOM, and particularly the components associated with surface-derived ingress, may be controlled, in part, by land use. In the pre-monsoon season, the prominence of tryptophan-like components likely generated from recent biological activity overwhelmed the humic-like and tyrosine-like fluorescence signals. Evidence from fluorescence data suggest groundwater in the post-monsoon season is composed of predominantly i) plant-derived matter and ii) anthropogenically influenced DOM (e.g. tryptophan-like components). Organic tracers, as well as Eh and Cl−, suggest monsoonal events mobilise surface-derived material from the unsaturated zone, causing dissolved organic carbon (DOC) of more microbial nature to infiltrate to >100 m depth. A correlation between higher protein:humic-like fluorescence and lower vegetation index (NDVI), determined from satellite-based land use data, in the post-monsoon season, indicates the ingression of wastewater-derived OM in groundwater under the urban area. Attenuated protein:humic-like fluorescence in groundwater close to the river points towards the mixing of groundwater and river water. This ingress of surface-derived OM is plausibly exacerbated by intensive groundwater pumping under these areas. Our approach to link the composition of aqueous organics with land use could easily be adapted for similar hydrogeochemical settings to determine the factors controlling groundwater DOM composition in various contexts.
Original languageEnglish
Article number166208
JournalScience of the Total Environment
Early online date10 Aug 2023
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 10 Aug 2023


  • Groundwater contamination
  • Dissolved organic matter characterisation
  • Fluorescence spectroscopy
  • Parallel factor analysis (PARAFAC)
  • Surface-groundwater interactions


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