Geomorphically mediated carbon dynamics of floodplain soils and Implications for net effect of carbon erosion

Quine, Timothy A., Cressey, Elizabeth L., Dungait, Jennifer A. J., de Baets, Sarah, Meersmans, Jeroen, Jones, Matthew W. ORCID: and Nicholas, Andrew P. (2022) Geomorphically mediated carbon dynamics of floodplain soils and Implications for net effect of carbon erosion. Hydrological Processes, 36 (9). ISSN 0885-6087

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The fate of organic carbon deposited in floodplain sediments is an important control on the magnitude and direction of the carbon flux from anthropogenically accelerated erosion and channelization of the riverine network. Globally, carbon deposition rates and mean residence time (MRT) within different geomorphic settings remains poorly constrained. We sampled soil profiles to 0.8 m depth from two geomorphic zones: active channel belt (ACB) and lowland floodplain, under long-term pasture adjacent to the river Culm in SW England, UK. We evaluated sedimentation rates and carbon storage using fallout radionuclide 137Cs, particle size and total carbon analyses. Variation in decomposition was assessed via empirical (soil aggregate size, density fractionation combined with natural abundance 13C analysis) and modelling simulation (using the RothC model and catchment implications explored using a floodplain evolution model). Sedimentation and carbon accumulation rates were 5–6 times greater in the ACB than the floodplain. Carbon decomposition rates also varied with geomorphic setting. In floodplain cores, faster decomposition rates were indicated by greater 13C-enrichment and subsoils dominated by mineral-associated soil organic carbon. Whereas, in the ACB, carbon was less processed and 13C-depleted, with light fraction and macroaggregate-carbon throughout the cores, and RothC modelled decomposition rates were 4-fold less than lowland floodplain cores. Including the ACB in floodplain carbon MRT calculations increased overall MRT by 10%. The major differences in the balance of sedimentation and decomposition rates between active and inactive floodplains suggests the relative extent of these contrasting zones is critical to the overall carbon balance. Restoration projects could enhance soil carbon storage by maximizing active floodplain areas by increasing river channel complexity.

Item Type: Article
Additional Information: ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS: This work was funded by UK Natural Environment Research Council as part of the Impacts of Climate Change on Erosion, Sediment and Transport and Soil Carbon in the UK and Europe project (NE/E011713/1). Matthew W. Jones’ contribution was supported initially by NERC PhD studentship (NE/L002434/1) and thereafter by Horizon 2020 ‘CHE’ project (no. 776186). We thank Sophie M. Green for her helpful comments on an early manuscript, Daisy Atkins for her digitisation of the Culm catchment, Richard Jones and Neville England for their help collecting samples, and the technician team at Exeter University for their assistance with laboratory work. DATA AVAILABILITY: The data that support the findings of this study are openly available in “figshare” at
Uncontrolled Keywords: floodplain,sedimentation,stable isotopes,carbon dynamics,sink,mean residence time,erosion,carbon storage,water science and technology ,/dk/atira/pure/subjectarea/asjc/2300/2312
Faculty \ School: Faculty of Science > School of Environmental Sciences
UEA Research Groups: University of East Anglia Schools > Faculty of Science > Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research
Faculty of Science > Research Centres > Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research
Faculty of Science > Research Groups > Climatic Research Unit
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Depositing User: LivePure Connector
Date Deposited: 07 Jul 2022 09:08
Last Modified: 18 Nov 2023 01:35
DOI: 10.1002/hyp.14657


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