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Research article2019Peer reviewedOpen access

Current forest carbon fixation fuels stream CO2 emissions

Campeau, A.; Bishop, K.; Amvrosiadi, N.; Billett, M. F.; Garnett, M. N.; Laudon, H.; Oquist, M. G.; Wallin, M. B.


Stream CO2 emissions contribute significantly to atmospheric climate forcing. While there are strong indications that groundwater inputs sustain these emissions, the specific biogeochemical pathways and timescales involved in this lateral CO2 export are still obscure. Here, via an extensive radiocarbon (C-14) characterisation of CO2 and DOC in stream water and its groundwater sources in an old-growth boreal forest, we demonstrate that the C-14-CO2 is consistently in tune with the current atmospheric C-14-CO2 level and shows little association with the C-14-DOC in the same waters. Our findings thus indicate that stream CO2 emissions act as a shortcut that returns CO2 recently fixed by the forest vegetation to the atmosphere. Our results expose a positive feedback mechanism within the C budget of forested catchments, where stream CO2 emissions will be highly sensitive to changes in forest C allocation patterns associated with climate and land-use changes.

Published in

Nature Communications
2019, Volume: 10, article number: 1876