The fate of fluvially-deposited organic carbon during transient floodplain storage

J. S. Scheingross, M. N. Repasch, N. Hovius, D. Sachse, M. Lupker, M. Fuchs, I. Halevy, D. R. Gröcke, N. Y. Golombek, N. Haghipour, T. I. Eglinton, O. Orfeo, A. M. Schleicher

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


CO2 release from particulate organic carbon (POC) oxidation during fluvial transit can influence climate over a range of timescales. Identifying the mechanistic controls on such carbon fluxes requires determining where POC oxidation occurs in river systems. While field data show POC oxidation and replacement moving downstream in lowland rivers, flume studies show that oxidation during active fluvial transport is limited. This suggests that most fluvial POC oxidation occurs during transient floodplain storage, but this idea has yet to be tested. Here, we isolate the influence of floodplain storage time on POC oxidation by exploiting a chronosequence of floodplain deposits above the modern groundwater table in the Rio Bermejo, Argentina. Measurements from 15 floodplain cores with depositional ages from 1 y to 20 ky show a progressive POC concentration decrease and 13C-enrichment with increasing time spent in floodplain storage. These results from the Rio Bermejo indicate that over 80% of fluvially-deposited POC can be oxidized over millennial timescales in aerated floodplains. Furthermore, POC in the oldest floodplain cores is more 14C-enriched than expected based on the independently-dated floodplain ages, indicating that a portion of this oxidized POC is replaced by autochthonous POC produced primarily by floodplain vegetation. We suggest floodplain storage timescales control the extent of oxidation of fluvially-deposited POC, and may play a prominent role in determining if rivers are significant atmospheric CO2 sources.

Original languageEnglish
Article number116822
Number of pages13
JournalEarth and Planetary Science Letters
Early online date24 Feb 2021
StatePublished - 1 May 2021

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Geophysics
  • Geochemistry and Petrology
  • Earth and Planetary Sciences (miscellaneous)
  • Space and Planetary Science


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