Radiocarbon and stable-isotope geochemistry of organic and inorganic carbon in lake superior

Prosper K. Zigah, Elizabeth C Austin-Minor, Josef P. Werne

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We present a lake-wide investigation of Lake Superior carbon and organic matter biogeochemistry using radiocarbon, stable isotope, and carbon concentrations. Dissolved inorganic carbon (DIC) abundance in the lake was 121-122 Tg C, with offshore concentration and δ 13C values being laterally homogenous and tightly coupled to the physical and thermal regime and biochemical processes. Offshore Δ 14C of DIC (50-65‰) exhibited lateral homogeneity and was more 14C enriched than co-occurring atmospheric CO 2 (∼38‰); nearshore δ 14C of DIC (36-38‰) was similar to atmospheric CO 2. Dissolved organic carbon (DOC) abundance was 14.2-16.4 Tg C. DOC's concentration and δ 13C were homogenous in June (mixed lake), but varied laterally during August (stratification) possibly due to spatial differences in lake productivity. Throughout sampling, DOC had modern radiocarbon values (14-58‰) indicating a semilabile nature with a turnover time of ≤60years. Lake particulate organic carbon (POC, 0.9-1.3 Tg C) was consistently 13C depleted relative to DOC. The δ 15N of epilimnetic particulate organic nitrogen shifted to more negative values during stratification possibly indicating greater use of nitrate (rather than ammonium) by phytoplankton in August. POC's radiocarbon was spatially heterogeneous (Δ 14C range: 58‰ to-303‰), and generally 14C depleted relative to DOC and DIC. POC δ 14C depletion could not be accounted for by black carbon in the lake but, because of its spatial and temporal distribution, is attributed to sediment resuspension. The presence of old POC within the epilimnion of the open lake indicates possible benthic-pelagic coupling in the lake's organic carbon cycle; the ultimate fate of this old POC bears further investigation.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numberGB1023
JournalGlobal Biogeochemical Cycles
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2012


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