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Riverine Export of Aged Carbon Driven by Flow Path Depth and Residence Time

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journal contribution
posted on 09.01.2018, 00:00 by Rebecca T. Barnes, David E. Butman, Henry F. Wilson, Peter A. Raymond
The flux of terrestrial C to rivers has increased relative to preindustrial levels, a fraction of which is aged dissolved organic C (DOC). In rivers, C is stored in sediments, exported to the ocean, or (bio)­chemically processed and released as CO2. Disturbance changes land cover and hydrology, shifting potential sources and processing of DOC. To investigate the likely sources of aged DOC, we analyzed radiocarbon ages, chemical, and spectral properties of DOC and major ions from 19 rivers draining the coterminous U.S. and Arctic. DOC optics indicated that the majority is exported as aromatic, high molecular weight, modern molecules while aged DOC tended to consist of smaller, microbial degradation products. Aged DOC exports, observed regularly in arid basins and during base flow in arctic rivers, are associated with higher proportion of mineral weathering products, suggesting deeper flows paths. These patterns also indicate potential for production of microbial byproducts as DOC ages in soil and water with longer periods of time between production and transport. Thus, changes in hydrology associated with landscape alteration (e.g., tilling or shifting climates) that can result in deeper flow paths or longer residence times will likely lead to a greater proportion of aged carbon in riverine exports.

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