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Journal of Environmental Quality Abstract - Landscape and Watershed Processes

Concentrations, Loads, and Yields of Organic Carbon in Streams of Agricultural Watersheds


This article in JEQ

  1. Vol. 41 No. 6, p. 1874-1883
    Received: Jan 30, 2012
    Published: November 5, 2012

    * Corresponding author(s): capel@usgs.gov
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  1. Scott Kronholma and
  2. Paul Capel *b
  1. a Water Resources Science, Univ. of Minnesota, 193 McNeal Hall, 1985 Buford Ave., St. Paul, MN 55108
    b U.S. Geological Survey, Univ. of Minnesota, 122 Civil Engineering Bldg., 500 Pillsbury Dr. SE, Minneapolis, MN 55455. Assigned to Associate Editor Lakhwinder Hundal


Carbon is cycled to and from large reservoirs in the atmosphere, on land, and in the ocean. Movement of organic carbon from the terrestrial reservoir to the ocean plays an important role in the global cycling of carbon. The transition from natural to agricultural vegetation can change the storage and movement of organic carbon in and from a watershed. Samples were collected from 13 streams located in hydrologically and agriculturally diverse watersheds, to better understand the variability in the concentrations and loads of dissolved organic carbon (DOC) and particulate organic carbon (POC) in the streams, and the variability in watershed yields. The overall annual median concentrations of DOC and POC were 4.9 (range: 2.1–6.8) and 1.1 (range: 0.4–3.8) mg C L−1, respectively. The mean DOC watershed yield (± SE) was 25 ± 6.8 kg C ha−1 yr−1. The yields of DOC from these agricultural watersheds were not substantially different than the DOC yield from naturally vegetated watersheds in equivalent biomes, but were at the low end of the range for most biomes. Total organic carbon (DOC + POC) annually exported from the agricultural watersheds was found to average 0.03% of the organic carbon that is contained in the labile plant matter and top 1 m of soil in the watershed. Since the total organic carbon exported from agricultural watersheds is a relatively small portion of the sequestered carbon within the watershed, there is the great potential to store additional carbon in plants and soils of the watershed, offsetting some anthropogenic CO2 emissions.

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Copyright © 2012. Copyright © by the American Society of Agronomy, Crop Science Society of America, and Soil Science Society of America, Inc.