Abstract

Oxidation of particulate organic carbon (POC) during fluvial transit releases CO2 to the atmosphere and can influence global climate. Field data show large POC oxidation fluxes in lowland rivers; however, it is unclear if POC losses occur predominantly during in-river transport, where POC is in continual motion within an aerated environment, or during transient storage in floodplains, which may be anoxic. Determination of the locus of POC oxidation in lowland rivers is needed to develop process-based models to predict POC losses, constrain carbon budgets, and unravel links between climate and erosion. However, sediment exchange between rivers and floodplains makes differentiating POC oxidation during in-river transport from oxidation during floodplain storage difficult. Here, we isolated in-river POC oxidation using flume experiments transporting petrogenic and biospheric POC without floodplain storage. Our experiments showed solid phase POC losses of 0%–10% over ∼103 km of fluvial transport, compared to ∼7% to >50% losses observed in rivers over similar distances. The production of dissolved organic carbon (DOC) and dissolved rhenium (a proxy for petrogenic POC oxidation) was consistent with small POC losses, and replicate experiments in static water tanks gave similar results. Our results show that fluvial sediment transport, particle abrasion, and turbulent mixing have a minimal role on POC oxidation, and they suggest that POC losses may accrue primarily in floodplain storage.

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