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Relationships between Δ14C and the molecular quality of dissolved organic carbon in rivers draining to the coast from the conterminous United States

January 1, 2012

Dissolved organic carbon (DOC) in natural waters possesses chemical and molecular qualities indicative of its source and age. The apportionment of DOC by age into millennial and decadal pools is necessary to understand the temporal connection between terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems in the global carbon cycle. We measured Δ14C-DOC and chemical composition indices (specific ultraviolet absorbance (SUVA254), fluorescence index (FI), hydrophobic organic acid fraction (HPOA) content) for 15 large river basins in the conterminous United States. Across all rivers the average proportion of HPOA in DOC correlated strongly with SUVA254 (r2 = 0.93 p < 0.001). Individual Δ14C-DOC ranged from a low of −92.9‰ (726 y.b.p.) in the Colorado River to 73.4‰ (>Modern) in the Altamaha River for the year 2009. When adjusted by total discharge, these U.S. Rivers export modern carbon at between 34 and 46‰, a signal dominated by the Mississippi River. The variation in Δ14C correlates to indices of the aromaticity of the DOC measured by the SUVA254 (r2 = 0.87, p < 0.001), and FI (r2 = 0.6; p < 0.001) as well as differences in annual river discharge (r2 = 0.46, p < 0.006). SUVA254 was further correlated to broad scale vegetation phenology estimated from the Enhanced Vegetation Index derived from the NASA Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectrometer (MODIS). We show that basins with high discharge, high proportions of vegetation cover, and low human population densities export DOC enriched in aromatic material that corresponds to recently fixed atmospheric CO2. Conversely old DOC is exported from low discharge watersheds draining arid regions, and watersheds more strongly impacted by humans. The potential influence from fossil carbon from human inputs to aquatic systems may be important and requires more research.

Citation Information

Publication Year 2012
Title Relationships between Δ<sup>14</sup>C and the molecular quality of dissolved organic carbon in rivers draining to the coast from the conterminous United States
DOI 10.1029/2012GB004361
Authors David Butman, Peter A. Raymond, Kenna D. Butler, George R. Aiken
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Global Biogeochemical Cycles
Series Number
Index ID 70180386
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization National Research Program - Central Branch

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