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Keywords:

  • 13C;
  • carbon;
  • carbon dioxide;
  • peat;
  • pipes;
  • radiocarbon

[1] We used the carbon isotope composition (14C and δ13C) to measure the source and age of DOC, POC, dissolved CO2 and CH4 (δ13C only) released from three natural peat pipes and the downstream catchment outlet of a small peatland in northern England. Sampling under different hydrological extremes (high flows associated with storm events and low flows before or after storms) was used to explore variability in C sources as flow paths change over short periods of time. The δ13C composition of organic C differed (δ13C-DOC −28.6‰ to −27.6‰;δ13C-POC −28.1‰ to −26.1‰) from that of the dissolved gases (δ13C-CO2 −20.5‰ to +1.1‰; δ13C-CH4−67.7‰ to −42.0‰) and showed that C leaving the catchment was a mixture of shallow/deep pipe and non-pipe sources. The isotopic composition of the dissolved gases was more variable than DOC and POC, with individual pipes either showing13C enrichment or depletion during a storm event. The 14C age of DOC was consistently modern at all sites; POC varied from modern to 653 years BP and evasion CO2 from modern to 996 years BP. Differences in the isotopic composition of evasion CO2 at pipe outlets do not explain the variability in δ13C and 14C at the catchment outlet and suggest that overland flow is likely to be an important source of CO2. Our results also show that the sources of CO2 and CH4 are significantly more variable and dynamic than DOC and POC and that natural pipes vent old, deep peat CO2 and POC (but not DOC) to the atmosphere.