Significance of riverine carbon transport: A case study of a large tropical river, Godavari (India)

M. M. Sarin, A. K. Sudheer, K. Balakrishna

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Although riverine carbon fluxes are a minor component of the global carbon cycle, the transfer of organic carbon from land to ocean represents a flux of potential carbon storage, irreversible over 103 to 104 a. Future carbon transfers through river basins are expected to accelerate, with respect to both sources and sinks, because of the large-scale human driven land-use and land-cover changes. Thus, the increased amounts of carbon transported to and sequestered in marine sediments (through fertilization by river-borne inorganic nutrients) may be an important net sink for anthropogenic CO2. Particularly, the humid tropics of South Asia are regions very sensitive to this lateral C transport because of high precipitation and high rates of land use and cover change. In this paper we report on the role of upland tributaries in the transport processes influencing the lateral carbon and nitrogen fluxes of the Godavari, a large tropical river of India. By far, dissolved inorganic carbon (DIC) is the dominant form of carbon transport in the river basin. It constitutes as much as 75% to the total carbon load. Particulate and dissolved organic carbon (POC and DOC) fluxes account for 21% and 4%, respectively. In the upper basin, DOC fluxes exceed that of POC due to large-scale anthropogenic activities. In contrast, tributaries in the central basin are characterized by comparable fluxes of POC and DOC. However, downriver POC export is 35% less than the import from upriver and tributaries due to the entrainment of sediments in river channels and dam sites. We argue that for highly disturbed watersheds in tropical regions, downstream transport of sediments and carbon requires long-term sampling programmes.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)97-108
Number of pages12
JournalScience in China, Series C: Life Sciences
Issue numberSUPPL1
Publication statusPublished - 01-12-2002

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
  • Environmental Science(all)
  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)


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