Size, age, renewal, and discharge of groundwater carbon

John A. Downing, Robert G. Striegl

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Scopus citations


Groundwater carbon (C) supply to lakes and streams is important to understanding the role of inland waters in global and regional cycles and in the functioning of aquatic ecosystems. We provide new estimates of the size and discharge of the groundwater C pool using data from a broad survey of groundwater C, information on the depth distribution of groundwater, and data on groundwater age. About 0.25 × 106km3of the 8 × 106km3of groundwater resource is within 100 m of the surface and 4.2 × 106km3is above 2000 m. Ages show an average groundwater turnover time of 10 yr at 25 m, 350 yr at 100 m, increasing to about 100 000 yr at 600 m. Global groundwater discharge is 16 000 km3yr−1; >16% of precipitation passes through groundwater. Groundwater dissolved organic C (DOC) can be high in shallow groundwater but stabilizes at ~2–4 mg L−1at 100 m. Average groundwater dissolved inorganic C (DIC) is ~30–43 mg L−1. Groundwater C content to 2000 m is ~145 Pg, about the same as all marine sediments and about one-sixth that of the surface ocean. Groundwater C discharge to continental waters is 0.68 Pg yr−1, or 3.4 times that estimated from river base-flow and submarine groundwater discharge. This discharge is 68 times previous estimates, implying a total C flux from land of 3.6 Pg yr−1; 80% of discharge occurs from above 40 m and 99% from the upper 100 m.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)122-127
Number of pages6
JournalInland Waters
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2 2018

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The authors thank their colleagues who were part of the Integration of the Terrestrial and Aquatic Carbon (ITAC) Working Group supported by the National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis, a Center funded by NSF (Grant DEB-94-21535), the University of California at Santa Barbara, and the State of California. This contribution also benefited from the support of the Instituto Mediterraneo de Estudios Avan-zados, Esporles, Mallorca, Islas Baleares, Spain, with the generous sponsorship of the Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas of Spain, as well as the Minnesota Sea Grant College Program. We are also grateful to William Simpkins of the Iowa State University Department of Geological and Atmospheric Sciences for discussions and advice on groundwater volume estimates, and Richard W. Healy and Michelle Walvoord, both groundwater hydrologists with the USGS in Denver, CO, for suggestions on the manuscript.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2017, © 2018 The Author(s). Published by Informa UK Limited, trading as Taylor & Francis Group.


  • carbon
  • depth
  • discharge
  • global
  • groundwater
  • renewal


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