Peatlands, soils and the ocean floor are well-recognized as sites of organic carbon accumulation and represent important global carbon sinks1,2. Although the annual burial of organic carbon in lakes and reservoirs exceeds that of ocean sediments3, these inland waters are components of the global carbon cycle that receive only limited attention4,5,6. Of the organic carbon that is being deposited onto the sediments, a certain proportion will be mineralized and the remainder will be buried over geological timescales. Here we assess the relationship between sediment organic carbon mineralization and temperature in a cross-system survey of boreal lakes in Sweden, and with input from a compilation of published data from a wide range of lakes that differ with respect to climate, productivity and organic carbon source. We find that the mineralization of organic carbon in lake sediments exhibits a strongly positive relationship with temperature, which suggests that warmer water temperatures lead to more mineralization and less organic carbon burial. Assuming that future organic carbon delivery to the lake sediments will be similar to that under present-day conditions, we estimate that temperature increases following the latest scenarios presented by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change7 could result in a 4–27 per cent (0.9–6.4 Tg C yr−1) decrease in annual organic carbon burial in boreal lakes.
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The study was part of the research environment LEREC (Lake Ecosystem Response to Environmental Change), financially supported by FORMAS (the Swedish Research Council for Environment, Agricultural Sciences and Spatial Planning). Additional funding from VR (the Swedish Research Council) to L.J.T. and to D.B., and from FORMAS to S.S., is acknowledged.
The authors declare no competing financial interests.
This file contains Supplementary Methods, Supplementary Table 1, a Supplementary Discussion, References and Supplementary Data and References for Figures 1, 2 and 3 in the main paper. (PDF 412 kb)
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Gudasz, C., Bastviken, D., Steger, K. et al. Temperature-controlled organic carbon mineralization in lake sediments. Nature 466, 478–481 (2010). https://doi.org/10.1038/nature09186
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