It is estimated that freshwater lakes in the world have a total area of about 1.5x1012 m2 (Shiklomanov, 1993; table 1). Including saline inland seas in this total would add another 1x1012 m2. The 28 largest (area of each > 5,000 km2) freshwater lakes in the world have a total area of 1.18x1012 m2 or about 79 percent of the total area of all freshwater lakes. If the 28 large lakes bury organic carbon (OC), on average, at the same rate as Lake Michigan (5 g/m2/yr), then the annual rate of OC burial in these 28 lakes is about 6 Tg/yr (6 terragrams per year or 6x1012 g/yr; table 1). If the smaller lakes bury OC, on average, at the same rate as an average Minnesota lake (72 g/m2/yr), then the annual rate of OC accumulation in these smaller lakes is about 23 Tg/yr (23x1012 g/yr; table 1). If saline inland seas bury OC at the Lake Michigan rate, this would be an additional 5 Tg/yr, for a total of 34 Tg/yr for all freshwater lakes and saline inland seas (table 1). Mulholland and Elwood (1982) estimated the OC burial in all lakes and inland seas (excluding the Black Sea) to be 60 Tg/yr today (table 1) and an average of 20 Tg/yr for the last 10,000 years. Stallard (1998) modeled terrestrial sedimentation as a series of 864 scenarios. For lake area, he used 1.54x1012 m2, the area of the 250 largest lakes in the world. This is close to the total of large and small lakes given in table 1. Again, including inland seas to this total would add an additional 1x1012 m2. Results of scenarios for lakes and reservoirs were divided into two components, those with clastic sediments and those with organic sediments. The results of OC burial in the most likely of Stallard's scenarios for lakes range from 48 to 72 Tg/yr (table 1), the average of which is close to the 60 Tg/yr estimated by Mulholland and Elwood (1982). We will use an average of 54 Tg/yr (table 1). The closeness of these estimates, calculated by different methods, suggests that this value is not in error by more than a factor of two.
Additional publication details
USGS Numbered Series
Magnitude and Significance of Carbon Burial in Lakes, Reservoirs, and Northern Peatlands