What’s in an EEM? : molecular signatures associated with dissolved organic fluorescence in boreal Canada

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


Dissolved organic matter (DOM) is a master variable in aquatic systems. Modern fluorescence techniques couple measurements of excitation emission matrix (EEM) spectra and parallel factor analysis (PARAFAC) to determine fluorescent DOM (FDOM) components and DOM quality. However, the molecular signatures associated with PARAFAC components are poorly defined. In the current study we characterized river water samples from boreal Québec, Canada, using EEM/PARAFAC analysis and ultrahigh resolution mass spectrometry (FTICR-MS). Spearman’s correlation of FTICR-MS peak and PARAFAC component relative intensities determined the molecular families associated with 6 PARAFAC components. Molecular families associated with PARAFAC components numbered from 39 to 572 FTICR-MS derived elemental formulas. Detailed molecular properties for each of the classical humic- and protein-like FDOM components are presented. FTICR-MS formulas assigned to PARAFAC components represented 39% of the total number of formulas identified and 59% of total FTICR-MS peak intensities, and included significant numbers compounds that are highly unlikely to fluoresce. Thus, fluorescence measurements offer insight into the biogeochemical cycling of a large proportion of the DOM pool, including a broad suite of unseen molecules that apparently follow the same gradients as FDOM in the environment.


  • Aron Stubbins
  • Jean-François Lapierre
  • Martin Berggren
  • Yves T. Prairie
  • Thorsten Dittmar
  • Paul A. del Giorgio
External organisations
  • University of Georgia
  • University Of Quebec In Montreal
  • Carl von Ossietzky University of Oldenburg
Research areas and keywords

Subject classification (UKÄ) – MANDATORY

  • Physical Geography
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)10598-10606
JournalEnvironmental Science & Technology
Issue number18
Publication statusPublished - 2014
Publication categoryResearch