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Keywords:

  • agriculture;
  • fertilizer;
  • lake carbon burial;
  • lake eutrophication and organic C-burial;
  • land-use;
  • nitrogen;
  • phosphorus

Abstract

The eutrophication of lowland lakes in Europe by excess nitrogen (N) and phosphorus (P) is severe because of the long history of land-cover change and agricultural intensification. The ecological and socio-economic effects of eutrophication are well understood but its effect on organic carbon (OC) sequestration by lakes and its change overtime has not been determined. Here, we compile data from ~90 culturally impacted European lakes [~60% are eutrophic, Total P (TP) >30 μg P l−1] and determine the extent to which OC burial rates have increased over the past 100–150 years. The average focussing corrected, OC accumulation rate (C ARFC) for the period 1950–1990 was ~60 g C m−2 yr−1, and for lakes with >100 μg TP l−1 the average was ~100 g C m−2 yr−1. The ratio of post-1950 to 1900–1950 C AR is low (~1.5) indicating that C accumulation rates have been high throughout the 20th century. Compared to background estimates of OC burial (~5–10 g C m−2 yr−1), contemporary rates have increased by at least four to fivefold. The statistical relationship between C ARFC and TP derived from this study (r2 = 0.5) can be used to estimate OC burial at sites lacking estimates of sediment C-burial. The implications of eutrophication, diagenesis, lake morphometry and sediment focussing as controls of OC burial rates are considered. A conservative interpretation of the results of the this study suggests that lowland European meso- to eutrophic lakes with >30 μg TP l−1 had OC burial rates in excess of 50 g C m−2 yr−1 over the past century, indicating that previous estimates of regional lake OC burial have seriously underestimated their contribution to European carbon sequestration. Enhanced OC burial by lakes is one positive side-effect of the otherwise negative impact of the anthropogenic disruption of nutrient cycles.