Eutrophication reverses whole-lake carbon budgets

Felipe S. Pacheco, Fabio Roland, John A. Downing

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

97 Scopus citations


Lakes play a large role in global atmospheric and landscape carbon (C) processes, but their role may change as they become polluted with nutrients. Geographic regions rich in surface waters are also prone to agricultural and urban development and so may become increasingly eutrophic as the population rises. Here we develop C budgets of highly eutrophic lakes. These analyses show that lakes undergoing eutrophication can become atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) sinks because of the CO2 disequilibrium caused by extreme primary production. C budgets of such lakes show they absorb both landscape and atmospheric C, converting it into lake sediments and passing additional dissolved organic C (DOC) downstream. Eutrophication may cause a reversal in the role played by oligotrophic lakes by promoting atmospheric C sequestration as sediment and DOC. This means that as eutrophication increases from agriculture and urbanization, the expected large CO2 evasion to the atmosphere by natural lakes will decline substantially and inland C sequestration and enrichment of DOC in waters flowing to the sea will be augmented. Thus, we suggest that the global C role of eutrophication is worthy of future consideration because it represents an interface between 2 large, converging environmental problems, whose interaction may reverse the role of lakes in the global C cycle.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)41-48
Number of pages8
JournalInland Waters
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2014
Externally publishedYes


  • Carbon dioxide
  • Carbon sink
  • Eutrophication
  • GHG emission


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