Understanding terrestrial organic carbon export : a time-series approach
Hemingway, Jordon D.
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Terrestrial organic carbon (OC) erosion, remineralization, transport through river networks, and burial in marine sediments is a major pathway of the global carbon cycle. However, our ability to constrain these processes and fluxes is largely limited by (i) analytical capability and (ii) temporal sampling resolution. To address issue (i), here I discuss methodological advancements and data analysis techniques for the Ramped PyrOx serial oxidation isotope method developed at WHOI. Ramped-temperature pyrolysis/oxidation coupled with the stable carbon (12C, 13C) and radiocarbon (14C) analysis of evolved CO2 is a promising tool for understanding and separating complex OC mixtures. To quantitatively investigate distributions of OC source, reservoir age, and chemical structure contained within a single sample, I developed a kinetic model linking RPO-derived activation energy, 13C composition, and radiocarbon content. This tool provides a novel method to fundamentally address the unknown relationship between OC remineralization rates and chemical structure in various environmental settings. To address issue (ii), I additionally present results from time-series sample sets collected on two end-member systems: the Congo River (Central Africa) and the LiWu River (Taiwan). For the Congo River, bulk and plant-wax-lipid 13C compositions indicate that a majority of particulate OC is consistently derived from downstream, C3-dominated rainforest ecosystems. Furthermore, bulk radiocarbon content and microbial lipid molecular distributions are strongly correlated with discharge, suggesting that pre-aged, swamp-forest-derived soils are preferentially exported when northern hemisphere discharge is highest. Combined, these results provide insight into the relationship between hydrological processes and fluvial carbon export. Lastly, I examined the processes controlling carbon source and flux in a set of soils and time-series fluvial sediments from the LiWu River catchment located in Taiwan. A comparison between bedrock and soil OC content reveals that soils can contain significantly less carbon than the underlying bedrock, suggesting that this material is remineralized to CO2 prior to soil formation. Both the presence of bacterial lipids and a shift toward lower activation energy of 14C-free OC contained in soil saprolite layers indicate that this process is microbially mediated and that microbial respiration of rock-derived OC likely represents a larger geochemical flux than previously thought. The results presented in this thesis therefore provide novel insight into the role of rivers in the global carbon cycle as well as their response to environmental perturbations.
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 February 2017
Suggested CitationThesis: Hemingway, Jordon D., "Understanding terrestrial organic carbon export : a time-series approach", 2017-02, DOI:10.1575/1912/8673, https://hdl.handle.net/1912/8673
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