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Colored dissolved organic matter (or CDOM) is the optically measurable component of the dissolved

organic matter in water. Also known as "chromophoric dissolved organic matter", yellow substance, or
"gelbstoff', CDOM occurs naturally in aquatic environments primarily as a result of tannins released
from decaying detritus (=breakdown of plant material). When water, originating as rainfall, drains
through the soil and into rivers and lakes, and ultimately into estuaries and the sea, it extracts from
the soil some of the water-soluble tannic substances and these impart a yellow color to the water.
CDOM most strongly absorbs short wavelength light ranging from blue to ultraviolet, whereas pure
water absorbs the longer-wavelength red light. Therefore, non-turbid water with little or no CDOM
appears blue. The color of water will range through green, yellow-green, and brown as CDOM

CDOM can have a significant effect on biological activity in aquatic systems. CDOM diminishes light
as it penetrates water. This has a limiting effect on photosynthesis, thus reducing the amount of light
that reaches seagrass beds and reduces shoot densities and the depths at which these underwater
plants can grow. CDOM can inhibit the growth of phytoplankton populations, which form the basis of
oceanic food chains and are a primary source of atmospheric oxygen. CDOM also absorbs harmful
UVA/B radiation, protecting organisms from DNA damage.

CDOM also interferes with the use of satellite spectrometers to remotely estimate phytoplankton
population distribution. As a byproduct of photosynthesis, chlorophyll is a key indicator of
phytoplankton activity. However, CDOM and chlorophyll a both absorb in the same spectral range so it
is difficult to differentiate between the two.

Although variations in CDOM are primarily the result of natural processes, human activities such as
logging, agriculture, effluent discharge, and wetland drainage can affect CDOM levels in fresh water
and estuarine systems. In general, CDOM concentrations are much higher in fresh waters and
estuaries than in the open ocean, though concentrations are highly variable. Absorption of UV
radiation causes CDOM to "bleach", reducing its optical density and absorptive capacity. This
bleaching (photodegradation) of CDOM produces both low-molecular-weight organic compounds
which may be utilized by microbes, and reactive oxygen species, which may damage tissues and
alter the bioavailability of limiting trace metals.


Fluorescent Dissolved Organic Matter (fDOM) refers to the fraction of CDOM that
fluoresces. fDOM is a surrogate for CDOM, and a fast and easy means of tracking DOM
in natural waters.
Measuring CDOM/fDOM is important because concentrations of CDOM affect
submerged aquatic vegetation, coral reefs and other benthic communities.

Other fDOM applications include:

Continuous monitoring of wastewater discharge. fDOM fluorescence corresponds

to total organic carbon (TOC), which is an indicator of discharge water quality.
fDOM concentration can indicate the dispersion, transport and mixing of a water
Hydrology studies demonstrate connection between flow/discharge and fDOM
concentrations in rivers and floodplains.