Reactions of hydroxyl radical with humic substances: bleaching, mineralization, and production of bioavailable carbon substrates. Academic Article uri icon


  • In this study, we examine the role of the hydroxyl (OH*) radical as a mechanism for the photodecomposition of chromophoric dissolved organic matter (CDOM) in sunlit surface waters. Using gamma-radiolysis of water, OH* was generated in solutions of standard humic substances in quantities comparable to those produced on time scales of days in sunlit surface waters. The second-order rate coefficients of OH* reaction with Suwannee River fulvic (SRFA; 2.7 x 10(4) s(-1) (mg of C/L)(-1)) and humic acids (SRHA; 1.9 x 10(4) s(-1) (mg of C/L)(-1)) are comparable to those observed for DOM in natural water samples and DOM isolates from other sources but decrease slightly with increasing OH* doses. OH* reactions with humic substances produced dissolved inorganic carbon (DIC) with a high efficiency of approximately 0.3 mol of CO2/mol of OH*. This efficiency stayed approximately constant from early phases of oxidation until complete mineralization of the DOM. Production rates of low molecular weight (LMW) acids including acetic, formic, malonic, and oxalic acids by reaction of SRFA and SRHA with OH* were measured using HPLC. Ratios of production rates of these acids to rates of DIC production for SRHA and for SRFA were similar to those observed upon photolysis of natural water samples. Bioassays indicated that OH* reactions with humic substances do not result in measurable formation of bioavailable carbon substrates other than the LMW acids. Bleaching of humic chromophores by OH* was relatively slow. Our results indicate that OH* reactions with humic substances are not likely to contribute significantly to observed rates of DOM photomineralization and LMW acid production in sunlit waters. They are also not likely to be a significant mechanism of photobleaching except in waters with very high OH* photoformation rates.

publication date

  • February 1, 2002