Articles | Volume 10, issue 4
Research article
15 Apr 2013
Research article |  | 15 Apr 2013

Impact of human activities on organic carbon transport in the Yellow River

L. J. Zhang, L. Wang, W.-J. Cai, D. M. Liu, and Z. G. Yu

Abstract. Using data from four field investigations between 2003 and 2009 along the Yellow River mainstream, we examined the transport features and seasonal variations of organic carbon, with a focus on contrasting the impacts of human activities with those of natural processes. Particulate organic carbon (POC) in the Yellow River originated mainly from the Loess Plateau, and thus the POC content in suspended sediments was much lower than in the world's other large rivers. Owing to both natural and human influences, dissolved organic carbon (DOC) has only a weak correlation with discharge. DOC varied as a result of human activities such as agricultural irrigation and pollution in the whole basin except for the upstream Qinghai–Tibetan Plateau. Our study also suggested that while reservoirs are a POC sink over short periods, a long-term POC storage flux cannot be easily estimated as discharge and sediment regulations have completely changed the relationship between the fluxes of water, sediments, and rainfall. However, this carbon sink can be obtained reliably through high-frequency sampling over long time periods. In addition, the annual water and sediment regulation (WSR) scheme has imposed an extremely severe human disturbance on the transport pattern of river organic carbon. Our study demonstrated for the first time that in a WSR event of less than 20 days, large proportions of the annual DOC (35%) and POC (56%) fluxes of the Yellow River were transported to the estuarine and coastal zone, potentially influencing estuarine and coastal geochemistry and ecosystems profoundly.

Final-revised paper