Spatial and temporal dynamics of biogeochemical processes in the Fraser River, Canada : a coupled organic-inorganic perspective
Voss, Britta M.
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LocationFraser River, Canada
The great geologic and climatic diversity of the Fraser River basin in southwestern Canada render it an excellent location for understanding biogeochemical cycling of sediments and terrigenous organic carbon in a relatively pristine, large, temperate watershed. Sediments delivered by all tributaries have the potential to reach the ocean due to a lack of main stem lakes or impoundments, a unique feature for a river of its size. This study documents the concentrations of a suite of dissolved and particulate organic and inorganic constituents, which elucidate spatial and temporal variations in chemical weathering (including carbonate weathering in certain areas) as well as organic carbon mobilization, export, and biogeochemical transformation. Radiogenic strontium isotopes are employed as a tracer of sediment provenance based on the wide variation in bedrock age and lithology in the Fraser basin. The influence of sediments derived from the headwaters is detectable at the river mouth, however more downstream sediment sources predominate, particularly during high discharge conditions. Bulk radiocarbon analyses are used to quantify terrestrial storage timescales of organic carbon and distinguish between petrogenic and biospheric organic carbon, which is critical to assessing the role of rivers in long-term atmospheric CO2 consumption. The estimated terrestrial residence time of biospheric organic carbon in the Fraser basin is 650 years, which is relatively short compared to other larger rivers (Amazon, Ganges-Brahmaputra) in which this assessment has been performed, and is likely related to the limited floodplain storage capacity and non-steady-state post-glacial erosion state of the Fraser River. A large portion of the dissolved inorganic carbon load of the Fraser River (>80%) is estimated to derive from remineralization of dissolved organic carbon, particularly during the annual spring freshet when organic carbon concentrations increase rapidly. This thesis establishes a baseline for carbon cycling in a largely unperturbed modern mid-latitude river system and establishes a framework for future process studies on the mechanisms of organic carbon turnover and organic matter-mineral associations in river systems.
Submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution September 2014
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