Utilizing Colored Dissolved Organic Matter to Derive Dissolved Black Carbon Export by Arctic Rivers

Aron Stubbins, Robert Spencer, Paul Mann, Robert Holmes, James McClelland, Jutta Niggemann, Thorsten Dittmar

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56 Citations (Scopus)
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Wildfires have produced black carbon (BC) since land plants emerged. Condensed aromatic compounds, a form of BC, have accumulated to become a major component of the soil carbon pool. Condensed aromatics leach from soils into rivers, where they are termed dissolved black carbon (DBC). The transport of DBC by rivers to the sea is a major term in the global carbon and BC cycles. To estimate Arctic river DBC export, 25 samples collected from the six largest Arctic rivers (Kolyma, Lena, Mackenzie, Ob’, Yenisey and Yukon) were analyzed for dissolved organic carbon (DOC), colored dissolved organic matter (CDOM), and DBC. A simple, linear regression between DOC and DBC indicated that DBC accounted for 8.9 ± 0.3% DOC exported by Arctic rivers. To improve upon this estimate, an optical proxy for DBC was developed based upon the linear correlation between DBC concentrations and CDOM light absorption coefficients at 254 nm (a254). Relatively easy to measure a254 values were determined for 410 Arctic river samples between 2004 and 2010. Each of these a254 values was converted to a DBC concentration based upon the linear correlation, providing an extended record of DBC concentration. The extended DBC record was coupled with daily discharge data from the six rivers to estimate riverine DBC loads using the LOADEST modeling program. The six rivers studied cover 53% of the pan-Arctic watershed and exported 1.5 ± 0.1 million tons of DBC per year. Scaling up to the full area of the pan-Arctic watershed, we estimate that Arctic rivers carry 2.8 ± 0.3 million tons of DBC from land to the Arctic Ocean each year. This equates to ~8% of Arctic river DOC export, slightly less than indicated by the simpler DBC vs DOC correlation-based estimate. Riverine discharge is predicted to increase in a warmer Arctic. DBC export was positively correlated with river runoff, suggesting that the export of soil BC to the Arctic Ocean is likely to increase as the Arctic warms.
Original languageEnglish
JournalFrontiers in Earth Science
Issue number63
Early online date26 Oct 2015
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 26 Oct 2015


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