Articles | Volume 15, issue 2
Research article
01 Feb 2018
Research article |  | 01 Feb 2018

Hydro-ecological controls on dissolved carbon dynamics in groundwater and export to streams in a temperate pine forest

Loris Deirmendjian, Denis Loustau, Laurent Augusto, Sébastien Lafont, Christophe Chipeaux, Dominique Poirier, and Gwenaël Abril

Abstract. We studied the export of dissolved inorganic carbon (DIC) and dissolved organic carbon (DOC) from forested shallow groundwater to first-order streams, based on groundwater and surface water sampling and hydrological data. The selected watershed was particularly convenient for such study, with a very low slope, with pine forest growing on sandy permeable podzol and with hydrology occurring exclusively through drainage of shallow groundwater (no surface runoff). A forest plot was instrumented for continuous eddy covariance measurements of precipitation, evapotranspiration, and net ecosystem exchanges of sensible and latent heat fluxes as well as CO2 fluxes. Shallow groundwater was sampled with three piezometers located in different plots, and surface waters were sampled in six first-order streams; river discharge and drainage were modeled based on four gauging stations. On a monthly basis and on the plot scale, we found a good consistency between precipitation on the one hand and the sum of evapotranspiration, shallow groundwater storage and drainage on the other hand. DOC and DIC stocks in groundwater and exports to first-order streams varied drastically during the hydrological cycle, in relation with water table depth and amplitude. In the groundwater, DOC concentrations were maximal in winter when the water table reached the superficial organic-rich layer of the soil. In contrast, DIC (in majority excess CO2) in groundwater showed maximum concentrations at low water table during late summer, concomitant with heterotrophic conditions of the forest plot. Our data also suggest that a large part of the DOC mobilized at high water table was mineralized to DIC during the following months within the groundwater itself. In first-order streams, DOC and DIC followed an opposed seasonal trend similar to groundwater but with lower concentrations. On an annual basis, leaching of carbon to streams occurred as DIC and DOC in similar proportion, but DOC export occurred in majority during short periods of the highest water table, whereas DIC export was more constant throughout the year. Leaching of forest carbon to first-order streams represented a small portion (approximately 2 %) of the net land CO2 sink at the plot. In addition, approximately 75 % of the DIC exported from groundwater was not found in streams, as it returned very fast to the atmosphere through CO2 degassing.

Short summary
Carbon leaching to streams represents a very small (~ 2 %) fraction of forest net ecosystem exchange (NEE). Such weak export of carbon from forest ecosystems, at least in temperate regions, is at odds with recent studies that attempt to integrate the contribution of inland waters in the continent carbon budget. Understanding why local and global carbon mass balances strongly diverge on the proportion of land NEE exported to aquatic systems is a major challenge for research in this field.
Final-revised paper