Dissolved oxygen (DO) refers to the volume of oxygen that is contained in water. Oxygen enters the water by photosynthesis of aquatic biota and by the transfer of oxygen across the air-water interface. The amount of oxygen that can be held by the water depends on the water temperature, salinity, and pressure. Gas solubility increases with decreasing temperature (colder water holds more oxygen). Gas solubility increases with decreasing salinity (freshwater holds more oxygen than does saltwater). Both the partial pressure and the degree of saturation of oxygen will change with altitude . Finally, gas solubility decreases as pressure decreases. Thus, the amount of oxygen absorbed in water decreases as altitude increases because of the decrease in relative pressure (Smith, 1990).
Once absorbed, oxygen is either incorporated throughout the water body via internal currents or is lost from the system. Flowing water is more likely to have high dissolved oxygen levels than is stagnant water because of the water movement at the air-water interface. In flowing water, oxygen-rich water at the surface is constantly being replaced by water containing less oxygen as a result of turbulence, creating a greater potential for exchange of oxygen across the air-water interface. Because stagnant water undergoes less internal mixing, the upper layer of oxygen-rich water tends to stay at the surface, resulting in lower dissolved oxygen levels throughout the water column. Oxygen losses readily occur when water temperatures rise, when plants and animals respire, and when microbes aerobically decompose organic matter.
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