Land-use change, not climate, controls organic carbon burial in lakes

N. J. Anderson, R. D. Dietz, D. R. Engstrom

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117 Scopus citations


Lakes are a central component of the carbon cycle, both mineralizing terrestrially derived organic matter and storing substantial amounts of organic carbon (OC) in their sediments. However, the rates and controls on OC burial by lakes remain uncertain, as do the possible effects of future global change processes. To address these issues, we derived OC burial rates in 210Pb-dated sediment cores from 116 small Minnesota lakes that cover major climate and land-use gradients. Rates for individual lakes presently range from 7 to 127 g C m-2 yr-1 and have increased by up to a factor of 8 since Euro-American settlement (mean increase: 2.8). Mean pre-disturbance OC burial rates were similar (14-22 g C m-2 yr-1) across all land-cover categories (prairie, mixed deciduous and boreal forest), indicating minimal effect of the regional temperature gradient (approx. 48C) on background carbon burial. The relationship between modern OC burial rates and temperature was also not significant after removal of the effect of total phosphorus. Contemporary burial rates were strongly correlated with lake-water nutrients and the extent of agricultural land cover in the catchment. Increased OC burial, documented even in relatively undisturbed boreal lake ecosystems, indicates a possible role for atmospheric nitrogen deposition. Our results suggest that globally, future land-cover change, intensification of agriculture and associated nutrient loading together with atmospheric N-deposition will enhance OC sequestration by lakes.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number20131278
JournalProceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
Issue number1769
StatePublished - Aug 21 2013
Externally publishedYes


  • Deforestation
  • Disturbance
  • Eutrophication
  • Land-cover
  • Nitrogen
  • Phosphorus


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