National Oceanic and
Atmospheric Administration
United States Department of Commerce


FY 2011

Physical controls on carbon dioxide transfer velocity and flux in low-gradient river systems and implications for regional carbon budgets

Alin, S.R., M.F.F.L. Rasera, C.I. Salimon, J.E. Richey, G.W. Holtgrieve, A.V. Krusche, and A. Snidvongs

J. Geophys. Res., 116, G01009, doi: 10.1029/2010JG001398 (2011)

Outgassing of carbon dioxide (CO2) from rivers and streams to the atmosphere is a major loss term in the coupled terrestrial‐aquatic carbon cycle of major low‐gradient river systems (the term “river system” encompasses the rivers and streams of all sizes that compose the drainage network in a river basin). However, the magnitude and controls on this important carbon flux are not well quantified. We measured carbon dioxide flux rates (FCO2), gas transfer velocity (k), and partial pressures (pCO2) in rivers and streams of the Amazon and Mekong river systems in South America and Southeast Asia, respectively. FCO2 and k values were significantly higher in small rivers and streams (channels <100 m wide) than in large rivers (channels >100 m wide). Small rivers and streams also had substantially higher variability in k values than large rivers. Observed FCO2 and k values suggest that previous estimates of basinwide CO2 evasion from tropical rivers and wetlands have been conservative and are likely to be revised upward substantially in the future. Data from the present study combined with data compiled from the literature collectively suggest that the physical control of gas exchange velocities and fluxes in low gradient river systems makes a transition from the dominance of wind control at the largest spatial scales (in estuaries and river mainstems) toward increasing importance of water current velocity and depth at progressively smaller channel dimensions upstream. These results highlight the importance of incorporating scale‐appropriate k values into basinwide models of whole ecosystem carbon balance.

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