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Keywords:

  • peatland;
  • erosion;
  • POC;
  • DOC;
  • fluvial carbon flux

ABSTRACT

The extensive blanket peatlands of the UK uplands account for almost half of total national terrestrial carbon storage. However, much of the blanket peat is severely eroded so that the contemporary role of the peatland system in carbon sequestration is compromised by losses of organic carbon in dissolved (DOC) and particulate (POC) form in the fluvial system. This paper presents the first detailed assessment of dissolved and organic carbon losses from a severely eroded headwater peatland (River Ashop, South Pennines, UK). Total annual fluvial organic carbon losses range from 29–106 Mg C km,-2 decreasing from the headwaters to the main catchment outlet. In contrast to less eroded systems fluvial organic carbon flux is dominated by POC. POC:DOC ratios decrease from values of 4 in the headwaters to close to unity at the catchment outlet. These results demonstrate the importance of eroding headwater sites as sources of POC to the fluvial system. Comparison with a range of catchment characteristics reveals that drainage density is the best predictor of POC:DOC but there is scatter in the relation in the headwaters. Steep declines in specific POC yield from headwater catchments are consistent with storage of POC within the fluvial system. Key to the significance of fluvial carbon flux in greenhouse gas budgets is understanding the fate of fluvial carbon. Further work on the fate of POC and the role of floodplains in fluvial carbon cycling is urgently required. Copyright © 2012 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.