Chromophoric dissolved organic matter (CDOM) in riverine systems can be affected by environmental conditions and land-use, and thus could provide important information regarding human activities in surrounding landscapes. The optical properties of water samples collected at 42 locations across the Liaohe River (LHR, China) watershed were examined using UV-Vis and fluorescence spectroscopy to determine CDOM characteristics, composition and sources. Total nitrogen (TN) and total phosphorus (TP) concentrations at all sampling sites exceeded the GB3838-2002 (national quality standards for surface waters, China) standard for Class V waters of 2.0 mg N/L and 0.4 mg P/L respectively, while trophic state index (TSIM) indicated that all the sites investigated were mesotrophic, 64% of which were eutrophic at the same time. Redundancy analysis showed that total suspended matter (TSM), dissolved organic carbon (DOC), and turbidity had a strong correlation with CDOM, while the other parameters (Chl a, TN, TP and TSIM) exhibited weak correlations with CDOM absorption. High spectral slope values and low SUVA254 (the specific UV absorption) values indicated that CDOM in the LHR was primarily comprised of low molecular weight organic substances. Analysis of excitation-emission matrices contour plots showed that CDOM in water samples collected from upstream locations exhibited fulvic-acid-like characteristics whereas protein-like substances were most likely predominant in samples collected in estuarine areas and downstream from large cities. These patterns were interpreted as indicative of water pollution from urban and industrial activities in several downstream sections of the LHR watershed.

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