Inland waters are active sites of carbon (C) processing and emitters of carbon dioxide (CO2) and methane (CH4) to the atmosphere. In the boreal zone, where surface waters receive large quantities of organic carbon (OC) from surrounding forests and wetlands, lakes and streams act as strong sources of these greenhouse gases. Lake sediments provide the only long-term sink of C in boreal inland waters, through burial of OC. However, mineralization of OC counteracts the efficiency of lake sediments in removing C from the short-term C cycle. In this context, this thesis provides a better insight into the dual role of boreal lake sediments as C source and C sink.
The presented work is based on empirical assessments of OC burial and OC mineralization rates in boreal lakes. The temporal variability of OC burial and the stability of the buried OC was assessed on both centennial and millennial timescales. The quantitative importance of sediment OC burial and mineralization in comparison both to other C fluxes within the lake, and to C fluxes within the tributary stream network, was quantified. By simulating the effect of climate change on water temperature, we also gauged the potential future efficiency of lake sediments in storing C.
The results demonstrate that OC mineralization in sediments dominates three-fold over OC burial when observed at a whole-basin and annual scale. The contribution of sediment OC mineralization to annual C emission from the assessed study lake was, however, found to be small (16%), when compared to OC mineralization in the water column (37%) and catchment import of C (47%). Furthermore, C emission from headwater streams was found to dominate greatly over the lake C emission, mainly triggered by the higher gas transfer velocity of streams compared to lakes.
On a long-term (Holocene) scale, the continuous OC burial flux results in a large amount of C stored in sediments. The temporal variability of this OC accumulation was found to vary across lakes, with, however, time-dependent patterns: On a millennial scale, smaller lakes exhibited a higher variability than larger lakes of the study area. For the last century, similar variability and a trend to increased OC accumulation was found for most study lakes, irrespective of their size. Analysis of lignin phenols in the accumulated OC did not indicated post-depositional degradation, independent of the age of the sediment OC, implying that sediments are a very stable sink for land-derived OC in boreal lakes.
Simulation of warming water temperatures in boreal lakes resulted in declines of the OC burial efficiency BE (OCBE; OC burial/OCdeposition) up to 16%, depending, however, on basin morphometry. Predicted declines in OCBE were higher for the more shallow lake compared to the deeper lake.
In conclusion, this thesis illustrates that sediments play, despite a small quantitative impact on aquatic C cycling, an important role as a very stable C sink in boreal lakes. However, the efficiency of this C sink is likely to be reduced in the future.
Uppsala: Acta Universitatis Upsaliensis, 2015. , 42 p.