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Lateral carbon exports from drained peatlands: An understudied carbon pathway in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, California

November 27, 2020

Degradation of peatlands via drainage is increasing globally and destabilizing peat carbon (C) stores. The effects of drainage on the timing and magnitude of lateral C losses from degraded peatlands remains understudied. We measured spatial and temporal variability in lateral C exports from three drained peat islands in the Sacramento‐San Joaquin Delta in California across the 2017 and 2018 water years using measurements of dissolved inorganic C (DIC), dissolved organic C (DOC), and suspended particulate organic C (POC) concentration combined with discharge. These measurements were supplemented with stable isotope data (δ13C‐DIC, δ13C‐POC, δ15N‐PON, and δ2H‐H2O values) to provide insight into hydrological and biogeochemical controls on lateral C exports from drained peatlands. Drainage DOC and DIC concentrations were seasonally variable with the highest values in the winter rainy season, when discharge was also elevated. Seasonal differences in the mobilization of dissolved C appeared to result from changing water sources and water table levels. Peat island drainage C contributions to surrounding waterways were also greatest during the winter. Although temporal variability in C cycling processes and trends were generally similar across islands, baseline drainage DIC, DOC, and POC concentrations were spatially variable, likely a result of sub‐island‐scale differences in soil organic matter content and hydrology. This spatial variability complicates system‐wide assessments of C budgets. Net lateral C exports were water year dependent and comparable to previously published vertical C emission rates for this system. This work highlights the importance of including lateral C exports from drained peatlands in local and regional C budgets.