Variability in organic carbon reactivity across lake residence time and trophic gradients

The transport of dissolved organic carbon from land to ocean is a large dynamic component of the global carbon cycle. Inland waters are hotspots for organic matter turnover, via both biological and photochemical processes, and mediate carbon transfer between land, oceans and atmosphere. However, predicting dissolved organic carbon reactivity remains problematic. Here we present in situ dissolved organic carbon budget data from 82 predominantly European and North American water bodies with varying nutrient concentrations and water residence times ranging from one week to 700 years.

We find that trophic status strongly regulates whether water bodies act as net dissolved organic carbon sources or sinks, and that rates of both dissolved organic carbon production and consumption can be predicted from water residence time. Our results suggest a dominant role of rapid light-driven removal in water bodies with a short water residence time, whereas in water bodies with longer residence times, slower biotic production and consumption processes are dominant and counterbalance one another. Eutrophication caused lakes to transition from sinks to sources of dissolved organic carbon. We conclude that rates and locations of dissolved organic carbon processing and associated CO2 emissions in inland waters may be misrepresented in global carbon budgets if temporal and spatial reactivity gradients are not accounted for.

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