Lateral carbon fluxes and CO2 outgassing from a tropical peat-draining river
Abstract. Tropical peatlands play an important role in the global carbon cycle due to their immense carbon storage capacity. However, pristine peat swamp forests are vanishing due to deforestation and peatland degradation, especially in Southeast Asia. CO2 emissions associated with this land use change might not only come from the peat soil directly but also from peat-draining rivers. So far, though, this has been mere speculation, since there has been no data from undisturbed reference sites. We present the first combined assessment of lateral organic carbon fluxes and CO2 outgassing from an undisturbed tropical peat-draining river. Two sampling campaigns were undertaken on the Maludam River in Sarawak, Malaysia. The river catchment is covered by protected peat swamp forest, offering a unique opportunity to study a peat-draining river in its natural state, without any influence from tributaries with different characteristics. The two campaigns yielded consistent results. Dissolved organic carbon (DOC) concentrations ranged between 3222 and 6218 μmol L−1 and accounted for more than 99 % of the total organic carbon (TOC). Radiocarbon dating revealed that the riverine DOC was of recent origin, suggesting that it derives from the top soil layers and surface runoff. We observed strong oxygen depletion, implying high rates of organic matter decomposition and consequently CO2 production. The measured median pCO2 was 7795 and 8400 μatm during the first and second campaign, respectively. Overall, we found that only 32 ± 19 % of the carbon was exported by CO2 evasion, while the rest was exported by discharge. CO2 outgassing seemed to be moderated by the short water residence time. Since most Southeast Asian peatlands are located at the coast, this is probably an important limiting factor for CO2 outgassing from most of its peat-draining rivers.