Erosion of organic carbon in the Arctic as a geological carbon dioxide sink
Hilton, Robert G.
Grocke, Darren R.
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Soils of the northern high latitudes store carbon over millennial timescales (103 yrs) and contain approximately double the carbon stock of the atmosphere1-3. Warming and associated permafrost thaw can expose soil organic carbon and result in mineralisation and carbon dioxide (CO2) release4-6. However, some of this soil organic carbon may be eroded and transferred to rivers7-9. If it escapes degradation during river transport and is buried in marine sediments, then it can contribute to a longer-term (>104 yrs), geological CO2 sink8-10. Despite this recognition, the erosional flux and fate of particulate organic carbon (POC) in large rivers at high latitudes remains poorly constrained. Here, we quantify POC source in the Mackenzie River, the main sediment supplier to the Arctic Ocean11,12 and assess its flux and fate. We combine measurements of radiocarbon, stable carbon isotopes and element ratios 26 to correct for rock-derived POC10,13,14. Our samples reveal that the eroded biospheric POC has resided in the basin for millennia, with a mean radiocarbon age of 5800±800 yr, much older than large tropical rivers13,14. Based on the measured biospheric POC content and variability in annual sediment yield15, we calculate a biospheric POC flux of 𝟐. 𝟐𝟐−𝟎𝟎.𝟗𝟗 +𝟏𝟏.𝟑𝟑 TgC yr-1 from the Mackenzie River, three times the CO2 drawdown by silicate weathering16. Offshore we find evidence for efficient terrestrial organic carbon burial over the Holocene, suggesting that erosion of organic carbon-rich, high latitude soils may result in a significant geological CO2 sink.
Author Posting. © The Author(s), 2015. This is the author's version of the work. It is posted here by permission of Nature Publishing Group for personal use, not for redistribution. The definitive version was published in Nature 524 (2015): 84-87, doi:10.1038/nature14653.
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