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Water Resources of the Caribbean


Terrestrial sedimentation and the carbon cycle: Coupling weathering and erosion to carbon burial


Robert F. Stallard

U.S. Geological Survey, 3215 Marine Street, Boulder, CO 80303-1066, USA


Abstract

This paper examines the linkages between the carbon cycle and sedimentary processes on land. Available data suggest that sedimentation on land can bury vast quantities of organic carbon, roughly 1015 g C yr-1. To evaluate the relative roles of various classes of processes in the burial of carbon on land, terrestrial sedimentation was modeled as a series of 864 scenarios. Each scenario represents a unique choice of intensities for seven classes of processes and two different global wetland distributions. Comparison was made with presumed pre-agricultural conditions. The classes of processes were divided into two major component parts: clastic sedimentation of soil-derived carbon and organic sedimentation of autochthonous carbon. For clastic sedimentation, masses of sediment were considered for burial as reservoir sediment, lake sediment, and combined colluvium, alluvium, and aeolian deposits. When the ensemble of models is examined, the human-induced burial of 0.6-1.5*1015 g yr-1 of carbon on land is entirely plausible. This sink reaches its maximum strength between 30 and 50 N. Paddy lands stand out as a type of land use that warrants future study, but the many faces of rice agriculture limit generalization. In an extreme scenario, paddy lands alone could be made to bury about 1*1015 g yr-1. Arguing that terrestrial sedimentation processes could be much of the sink for the so called "missing carbon" is reasonable. Such a hypothesis, however, requires major redesign of how the carbon cycle is modeled. Unlike ecosystem processes that are amenable to satellite monitoring and parallel modeling, many aspects of terrestrial sedimentation are hidden from space.


Stallard, R. F., 1998, Terrestrial sedimentation and the carbon cycle: Coupling weathering and erosion to carbon burial: Global Biogeochemical Cycles, v. 12, no. 2, p. 231-252.

 
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