Spatial–temporal variations in riverine carbon strongly influenced by local hydrological events in an alpine catchment

Wang, Xin; Liu, Ting; Wang, Liang; Liu, Zongguang; Zhu, Erxiong; Wang, Simin; Cai, Yue; Zhu, Shanshan; Feng, Xiaojuan

Headwater streams drain inline-formula>70 % of global land areas but are poorly monitored compared with large rivers. The small size and low water buffering capacity of headwater streams may result in a high sensitivity to local hydrological alterations and different carbon transport patterns from large rivers. Furthermore, alpine headwater streams on the “Asian water tower”, i.e., Qinghai–Tibetan Plateau, are heavily affected by thawing of frozen soils in spring as well as monsoonal precipitation in summer, which may present contrasting spatial–temporal variations in carbon transport compared to tropical and temperate streams and strongly influence the export of carbon locked in seasonally frozen soils. To illustrate the unique hydro-biogeochemistry of riverine carbon in Qinghai–Tibetan headwater streams, here we carry out a benchmark investigation on the riverine carbon transport in the Shaliu River (a small alpine river integrating headwater streams) based on annual flux monitoring, sampling at a high spatial resolution in two different seasons and hydrological event monitoring. We show that riverine carbon fluxes in the Shaliu River were dominated by dissolved inorganic carbon, peaking in the summer due to high discharge brought by the monsoon. Combining seasonal sampling along the river and monitoring of soil–river carbon transfer during spring thaw, we also show that both dissolved and particulate forms of riverine carbon increased downstream in the pre-monsoon season due to increasing contribution of organic matter derived from thawed soils along the river. By comparison, riverine carbon fluctuated in the summer, likely associated with sporadic inputs of organic matter supplied by local precipitation events during the monsoon season. Furthermore, using lignin phenol analysis for both riverine organic matter and soils in the basin, we show that the higher acid-to-aldehyde (inline-formula M2inlinescrollmathml chem normal Ad / normal Al 31pt14ptsvg-formulamathimge6a821d5b8b6996ba753f66655cbf8cb bg-18-3015-2021-ie00001.svg31pt14ptbg-18-3015-2021-ie00001.png ) ratios of riverine lignin in the monsoon season reflect a larger contribution of topsoil likely via increased surface runoff compared with the pre-monsoon season when soil leachate lignin inline-formula M3inlinescrollmathml chem normal Ad / normal Al 31pt14ptsvg-formulamathimg6790affa9bc31b6a11fd6de4d6bd641b bg-18-3015-2021-ie00002.svg31pt14ptbg-18-3015-2021-ie00002.png ratios were closer to those in the subsoil than topsoil solutions. Overall, these findings highlight the unique patterns and strong links of carbon transport in alpine headwater catchments with local hydrological events. Given the projected climate warming on the Qinghai–Tibetan Plateau, thawing of frozen soils and alterations of precipitation regimes may significantly influence the alpine headwater carbon transport, with critical effects on the biogeochemical cycles of the downstream rivers. The alpine headwater catchments may also be utilized as sentinels for climate-induced changes in the hydrological pathways and/or biogeochemistry of the small basin.

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Wang, Xin / Liu, Ting / Wang, Liang / et al: Spatial–temporal variations in riverine carbon strongly influenced by local hydrological events in an alpine catchment. 2021. Copernicus Publications.

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