Source limitation of carbon gas emissions in high-elevation mountain streams and lakes

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Inland waters are an important component of the global carbon cycle through transport, storage, and direct emissions of CO2 and CH4 to the atmosphere. Despite predictions of high physical gas exchange rates due to turbulent flows and ubiquitous supersaturation of CO2 - and perhaps also CH4 - patterns of gas emissions are essentially undocumented for high mountain ecosystems. Much like other headwater networks around the globe, we found that high-elevation streams in Rocky Mountain National Park, USA, were supersaturated with CO2 during the growing season and were net sources to the atmosphere. CO2 concentrations in lakes, on the other hand, tended to be less than atmospheric equilibrium during the open water season. CO2 and CH4 emissions from the aquatic conduit were relatively small compared to many parts of the globe. Irrespective of the physical template for high gas exchange (high k), we found evidence of CO2 source limitation to mountain streams during the growing season, which limits overall CO2 emissions. Our results suggest a reduced importance of aquatic ecosystems for carbon cycling in high-elevation landscapes having limited soil development and high CO2 consumption via mineral weathering.




Crawford, J. T., Dornblaser, M. M., Stanley, E. H., Clow, D. W., & Striegl, R. G. (2015). Source limitation of carbon gas emissions in high-elevation mountain streams and lakes. Journal of Geophysical Research: Biogeosciences, 120(5), 952–964.

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