Export of fine particulate organic carbon from redwood-dominated catchments

Earth Surface Processes and Landforms



Recently, researchers have recognized the significant role of small mountainous river systems in the transport of carbon from terrestrial environments to the ocean, and the scale of such studies have ranged from channel bed units to continents. In temperate zones, these mountain river systems commonly drain catchments that are largely forested. However, the magnitude of carbon export from rivers draining old-growth redwood forests has not been evaluated to date. Old-growth redwood stands support some of the largest quantities of biomass in the world, up to 350 000 Mg of stem biomass km-2 and soil organic carbon can reach 46 800 Mg km-2. In north coastal California, suspended sediment samples were collected at three gaging stations for two to four years on streams draining old-growth redwood forests. Carbon content, determined through loss-on-ignition tests, was strongly correlated with turbidity, and continuous turbidity records from the gaging stations were used to estimate annual carbon exports of 1 · 6 to 4 · 2 Mg km-2 yr-1. These values, representing 13 to 33% of the suspended sediment load, are some of the highest percentages reported in the global literature. The fraction of organic carbon as part of the suspended sediment load decreased with discharge, but reached an asymptote of 5 to 10% at flows 10 to 20 times the mean annual flows. Although larger rivers in this region exhibit high sediment yields (up to 3600 Mg km-2 yr-1), mainly attributed to high rates of uplift, mass movement, and timber harvest, the small pristine streams in this study have sediment yields of only 8 to 100 Mg km-2 yr-1. Because the current extent of old-growth redwood stands is less than 5% of its pre-European-settlement distribution, the present organic carbon signature in suspended sediment loads in this region is likely different from that in the early 20th century. Published 2015. This article is a U.S. Government work and is in the public domain in the USA.

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Additional publication details

Publication type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Title Export of fine particulate organic carbon from redwood-dominated catchments
Series title Earth Surface Processes and Landforms
DOI 10.1002/esp.3752
Volume 40
Issue 11
Year Published 2015
Language English
Publisher Wiley
Contributing office(s) Western Ecological Research Center
Description 9 p.
First page 1533
Last page 1541
Country United States
State California
Online Only (Y/N) N
Additional Online Files (Y/N) N
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