Fires prime terrestrial organic carbon for riverine export to the global oceans

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  • Matthew Jones
  • Alysha Coppola
  • Cristina Santín
  • Thorsten Dittmar
  • Rudolf Jaffé
  • Stefan Doerr
  • Timothy A. Quine

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Black carbon (BC) is a recalcitrant form of organic carbon (OC) produced by landscape fires. BC is an important component of the global carbon cycle because, compared to unburned biogenic OC, it is selectively conserved in terrestrial and oceanic pools. Here we show that the dissolved BC (DBC) content of dissolved OC (DOC) is twice greater in major (sub)tropical and high-latitude rivers than in major temperate rivers, with further significant differences between biomes. We estimate that rivers export 18 ± 4 Tg DBC year−1 globally and that, including particulate BC fluxes, total riverine export amounts to 43 ± 15 Tg BC year−1 (12 ± 5% of the OC flux). While rivers export ~1% of the OC sequestered by terrestrial vegetation, our estimates suggest that 34 ± 26% of the BC produced by landscape fires has an oceanic fate. Biogeochemical models require modification to account for the unique dynamics of BC and to predict the response of recalcitrant OC export to changing environmental conditions.


Original languageEnglish
Article number2791
Number of pages8
JournalNature Communications
Publication statusPublished - 3 Jun 2020

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