Controls on Fluvial Carbon Efflux from Eroding Peatland Catchments.

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Global peatlands store an unparalleled proportion of total global organic carbon but it is vulnerable to erosion into fluvial systems. Fluvial networks are being recognised as areas of carbon transformation, with eroded particulate organic carbon processed to dissolved organic carbon and CO2. Existing studies indicate biodegradation and photodegradation as key processes controlling the transformation of organic carbon in fluvial systems, with initial concentrations of dissolved organic carbon (DOC) identified as a control on the rate of carbon mineralisation. This study manipulates temperature and incident light intensity to investigate carbon mineralisation rates in laboratory simulations of peatland sediment transport into fluvial systems. By directly measuring gaseous CO2 emissions from sampled stream water, the relationship of temperature and light intensity with carbon efflux is identified. In simulations where sediment (as particulate organic matter, POM) is absent, temperature is consistently the dominant factor influencing carbon efflux rates. This influence is independent of the initial dissolved organic carbon (DOC) concentration of the water sample. In simulations where POM was added, representing a peatland river receiving eroded terrestrial sediment, initial DOC concentration predicts 79% of the variation in total gaseous carbon efflux while temperature and light intensity predict 12% and 3% respectively. When sampled stream water's mineralisation rates in the presence of added POM are analysed independently, removing DOC as a model variable, the dominant variable affecting CO2 efflux is opposite for each sample. This study presents novel data suggesting peatland erosion introduces further complexity to dynamic stream systems where rates of carbon transformation processes and the influence of specific environmental variables are interdependent. Anthropogenic climate change is identified as a leading risk factor perpetuating peatland erosion, therefore understanding the fate of terrestrial sediment in rivers and further quantifying the benefits of protecting peatland soils will be of increasing importance to carbon budgeting and ecosystem function studies.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)361-371
Number of pages11
JournalHydrological Processes
Issue number3
Early online date19 Nov 2018
Publication statusPublished - 2018


  • carbon dioxide (CO )
  • dissolved organic carbon (DOC)
  • erosion
  • fluvial
  • particulate organic carbon (POC)
  • peatland


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