Letter

Nature 451, 449-452 (24 January 2008) | doi:10.1038/nature06505; Received 6 July 2007; Accepted 23 November 2007

Anthropogenically enhanced fluxes of water and carbon from the Mississippi River

Peter A. Raymond1,4, Neung-Hwan Oh1,4, R. Eugene Turner2 & Whitney Broussard3

  1. Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies, 21 Sachem Street, New Haven, Connecticut 06511, USA
  2. Coastal Ecology Institute,
  3. Department of Oceanography and Coastal Sciences, Louisiana State University, Baton Rouge, Louisiana 70803, USA
  4. These authors contributed equally to this work.

Correspondence to: Peter A. Raymond1,4 Correspondence and requests for materials should be addressed to P.A.R. (Email: peter.raymond@yale.edu).

The water and dissolved inorganic carbon exported by rivers are important net fluxes that connect terrestrial and oceanic water and carbon reservoirs1. For most rivers, the majority of dissolved inorganic carbon is in the form of bicarbonate. The riverine bicarbonate flux originates mainly from the dissolution of rock minerals by soil water carbon dioxide, a process called chemical weathering, which controls the buffering capacity and mineral content of receiving streams and rivers2. Here we introduce an unprecedented high-temporal-resolution, 100-year data set from the Mississippi River and couple it with sub-watershed and precipitation data to reveal that the large increase in bicarbonate flux that has occurred over the past 50 years (ref. 3) is clearly anthropogenically driven. We show that the increase in bicarbonate and water fluxes is caused mainly by an increase in discharge from agricultural watersheds that has not been balanced by a rise in precipitation, which is also relevant to nutrient and pesticide fluxes to the Gulf of Mexico. These findings demonstrate that alterations in chemical weathering are relevant to improving contemporary biogeochemical budgets. Furthermore, land use change and management were arguably more important than changes in climate and plant CO2 fertilization to increases in riverine water and carbon export from this large region over the past 50 years.

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