• An Erratum to this article was published on 19 March 2014


Carbon dioxide (CO2) transfer from inland waters to the atmosphere, known as CO2 evasion, is a component of the global carbon cycle. Global estimates of CO2 evasion have been hampered, however, by the lack of a framework for estimating the inland water surface area and gas transfer velocity and by the absence of a global CO2 database. Here we report regional variations in global inland water surface area, dissolved CO2 and gas transfer velocity. We obtain global CO2 evasion rates of 1.8  petagrams of carbon (Pg C) per year from streams and rivers and 0.32  Pg C yr−1 from lakes and reservoirs, where the upper and lower limits are respectively the 5th and 95th confidence interval percentiles. The resulting global evasion rate of 2.1 Pg C yr−1 is higher than previous estimates owing to a larger stream and river evasion rate. Our analysis predicts global hotspots in stream and river evasion, with about 70 per cent of the flux occurring over just 20 per cent of the land surface. The source of inland water CO2 is still not known with certainty and new studies are needed to research the mechanisms controlling CO2 evasion globally.

Access optionsAccess options

Rent or Buy article

Get time limited or full article access on ReadCube.


All prices are NET prices.


  1. 1.

    et al. Trends in the sources and sinks of carbon dioxide. Nature Geosci. 2, 831–836 (2009)

  2. 2.

    Sinks of the anthropogenically enhanced carbon cycle in surface fresh waters. J. Geophys. Res. 89, 4657–4676 (1984)

  3. 3.

    , & Carbon dioxide partial pressure in the Columbia river. Science 166, 867–868 (1969)

  4. 4.

    , & Carbon dioxide concentration and atmospheric flux in the Hudson River. Estuaries 20, 381–390 (1997)

  5. 5.

    et al. Carbon dioxide emission from European estuaries. Science 282, 434–436 (1998)

  6. 6.

    , & Arctic lakes and streams as gas conduits to the atmosphere: implications for tundra carbon budgets. Science 251, 298–301 (1991)

  7. 7.

    , , , & Carbon dioxide evasion from central Amazonian wetlands as a significant source of atmospheric CO2 in the tropics. Nature 416, 617–620 (2002)

  8. 8.

    et al. CO2 efflux from Amazonian headwater streams represents a significant fate for deep soil respiration. Geophys. Res. Lett. 35, L17401 (2008)

  9. 9.

    & Significant efflux of carbon dioxide from streams and rivers in the United States. Nature Geosci. 4, 839–842 (2011)

  10. 10.

    et al. Rivering coupling of biogeochemical cycles between land, oceans and atmosphere. Front. Ecol. Environ 9, 53–60 (2011)

  11. 11.

    et al. The boundless carbon cycle. Nature Geosci. 2, 598–600 (2009)

  12. 12.

    et al. Plumbing the global carbon cycle: integrating inland waters into the terrestrial carbon budget. Ecosystems 10, 172–185 (2007)

  13. 13.

    in The Global Carbon Cycle: Integrating Humans, Climate and the Natural World (eds & ) 329–341 (Scope 62, Island, 2004)

  14. 14.

    & in Encyclopedia of Inland Waters 469–478 (Academic, 2009)

  15. 15.

    & Development and validation of a global database of lakes, reservoirs and wetlands. J. Hydrol. 296, 1–22 (2004)

  16. 16.

    , , & The regional abundance and size distribution of lakes and reservoirs in the United States and implications for estimates of global lake extent. Limnol. Oceanogr. 57, 597–606 (2012)

  17. 17.

    et al. Integrating aquatic and terrestrial components to construct a complete carbon budget for a north temperate lake district. Glob. Change Biol. 17, 1193–1211 (2011)

  18. 18.

    et al. A catchment-scale carbon and greenhouse gas budget of a subarctic landscape. Phil. Trans. R. Soc. A 365, 1643–1656 (2007)

  19. 19.

    et al. CO2 supersaturation along the aquatic conduit in Swedish watersheds as constrained by terrestrial respiration, aquatic respiration and weathering. Glob. Change Biol. 16, 1966–1978 (2009)

  20. 20.

    et al. Integrating aquatic carbon fluxes in a boreal catchment carbon budget. J. Hydrol. 334, 141–150 (2007)

  21. 21.

    & Atmospheric exchange of carbon dioxide in a low-wind oligotrophic lake measured by the addition of SF6. Limnol. Oceanogr. 43, 647–656 (1998)

  22. 22.

    et al. Lake-size dependency of wind shear and convection as controls on gas exchange. Geophys. Res. Lett. 39, L09405 (2012)

  23. 23.

    , , , & Carbon dioxide and methane emissions from the Yukon River system. Glob. Biogeochem. Cycles 26, GB0E05 (2012)

  24. 24.

    , & New global hydrograph derived from spaceborne elevation data. Eos 89, 93–94 (2008)

  25. 25.

    & Geometry of river networks. I. Scaling, fluctuations, and deviations. Physical Rev. E 63, 016115 (2001)

  26. 26.

    & Geological Survey Professional Paper 252 57 (US Government Printing Office, 1953)

  27. 27.

    , & High-resolution fields of global runoff combining observed river discharge and simulated water balances. Glob. Biogeochem. Cycles 16, 15 (2002)

  28. 28.

    et al. Physical controls on carbon dioxide transfer velocity and flux in low-gradient river systems and implications for regional carbon budgets. J. Geophys. Res. 116, G01009 (2011)

  29. 29.

    et al. Scaling the gas transfer velocity and hydraulic geometry in streams and small rivers. Limnol. Oceanogr. Fluids Environ. 2, 41–53 (2012)

  30. 30.

    , , , & What controls the spatial patterns of the riverine carbonate system? A case study for North America. Chem. Geol. 337–338, 114–127 (2013)

  31. 31.

    , & Global coastal segmentation and its river catchment contributors: a new look at land-ocean linkage. Glob. Biogeochem. Cycles 20, GB1S90 (2006)

  32. 32.

    , , , & Global inundation dynamics inferred from multiple satellite observations, 1993–2000. J. Geophys. Res. 112, D12107 (2007)

  33. 33.

    et al. Global abundance and size distribution of streams and rivers. Inland Wat. 2, 229–236 (2012)

  34. 34.

    et al. The global abundance and size distribution of lakes, ponds, and impoundments. Limnol. Oceanogr. 51, 2388–2397 (2006)

  35. 35.

    in Physics and Chemistry of Lakes (eds , & ) 1–35 (Springer, 1995)

  36. 36.

    & Carbon in catchments: connecting terrestrial carbon losses with aquatic metabolism. Mar. Freshw. Res. 52, 101–110 (2001)

  37. 37.

    et al. Carbon dioxide and methane emissions and the carbon budget of a 10-year old tropical reservoir (Petit Saut, French Guiana). Glob. Biogeochem. Cycles 19, GB4007 (2005)

  38. 38.

    et al. Carbon emission from hydroelectric reservoirs linked to reservoir age and latitude. Nature Geosci. 4, 593–596 (2011)

  39. 39.

    , & Inorganic carbon loading as a primary driver of dissolved carbon dioxide concentrations in lakes and reservoirs of the contiguous United States. Glob. Biogeochem. Cycles 27, 285–295 (2013)

  40. 40.

    et al. Lakes and reservoirs as regulators of carbon cycling and climate. Limnol. Oceanogr. 54, 2298–2314 (2009)

  41. 41.

    , , & Carbon dioxide supersaturation in the surface waters of lakes. Science 265, 1568–1570 (1994)

  42. 42.

    et al. Sediment respiration and lake trophic state are important predictors of large CO2 evasion from small boreal lakes. Glob. Change Biol. 12, 1554–1567 (2006)

  43. 43.

    et al. CO2 emissions from saline lakes: a global estimate of a surprisingly large flux. J. Geophys. Res. 113, G04041 (2008)

  44. 44.

    , , & Catchment productivity controls CO2 emissions from lakes. Nature Clim. Change 3, 391–394 (2013)

  45. 45.

    , , & Dissolved CO2 in small catchment streams of eastern Amazonia: a minor pathway of terrestrial carbon loss. J. Geophys. Res. 115, G04005 (2010)

  46. 46.

    , , & Assessing the nonconservative fluvial fluxes of dissolved organic carbon in North America. J. Geophys. Res. 117, G01027 (2012)

  47. 47.

    et al. Amazon River carbon dioxide outgassing fuelled by wetlands. Nature http://dx.doi.org/10.1038/nature12797 (in the press)

  48. 48.

    et al. in The Global Carbon Cycle: Integrating Humans, Climate and the Natural World (eds & ) 17–45 (Scope 62, Island, 2004)

  49. 49.

    , , & Anthropogenically enhanced fluxes of water and carbon from the Mississippi River. Nature 451, 449–452 (2008)

  50. 50.

    et al. Anthropogenic perturbation of the carbon fluxes from land to ocean. Nature Geosci. 6, 597–607 (2013)

Download references


P.A.R. and M.H were partly funded by a NASA grant (NNX11AH68G) to P.A.R. P.A.R. also received support from a fellowship from L-IPSL labex program. S.S. was supported by Formas. R.L. and J.H. were funded by the EU project GeoCarbon (U4603EUU1104) and by DFG (EXC 177 and DFG HA 4472/6-1). This represents a contribution to the RECCAP process. R.S. and D.B. are part of the Inland Water Science Group of the USGS LandCarbon Project.

Author information

Author notes

    • Jens Hartmann
    • , Ronny Lauerwald
    •  & Sebastian Sobek

    These authors contributed equally to this work.


  1. Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies, 195 Prospect Street, New Haven, Connecticut 06511, USA

    • Peter A. Raymond
    • , Mark Hoover
    •  & David Butman
  2. Institute for Geology, KlimaCampus, Universität Hamburg, D-20146 Hamburg, Germany

    • Jens Hartmann
    •  & Ronny Lauerwald
  3. Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences, Université Libre de Bruxelles, B-1050 Bruxelles, Belgium

    • Ronny Lauerwald
  4. Department of Ecology and Genetics, Limnology, Uppsala University, SE-75236 Uppsala, Sweden

    • Sebastian Sobek
  5. Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, Madison, Wisconsin 53716, USA

    • Cory McDonald
  6. US Geological Survey, National Research Program, Boulder, Colorado 80303, USA

    • David Butman
    •  & Robert Striegl
  7. Applied Physics Lab, University of Washington, Seattle, Washington 98105, USA

    • Emilio Mayorga
  8. Department of Applied Environmental Science, Stockholm University, S-10691 Stockholm, Sweden

    • Christoph Humborg
  9. Finnish Environment Institute, PO Box 140, FI-00251 Helsinki, Finland

    • Pirkko Kortelainen
  10. Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences, University of Waterloo, Waterloo, Ontario N2L 3G1, Canada

    • Hans Dürr
  11. Université Pierre et Marie Curie (Paris VI), Unité Mixte de Recherche CNRS-UPMC Sisyphe, F-75252 Paris 05, France

    • Michel Meybeck
  12. LSCE IPSL, UMR8212, F-91191 Gif-sur-Yvette, France

    • Philippe Ciais
  13. Department of Oceanography, US Naval Academy, 572C Holloway Road, Annapolis, Maryland 21402, USA

    • Peter Guth


  1. Search for Peter A. Raymond in:

  2. Search for Jens Hartmann in:

  3. Search for Ronny Lauerwald in:

  4. Search for Sebastian Sobek in:

  5. Search for Cory McDonald in:

  6. Search for Mark Hoover in:

  7. Search for David Butman in:

  8. Search for Robert Striegl in:

  9. Search for Emilio Mayorga in:

  10. Search for Christoph Humborg in:

  11. Search for Pirkko Kortelainen in:

  12. Search for Hans Dürr in:

  13. Search for Michel Meybeck in:

  14. Search for Philippe Ciais in:

  15. Search for Peter Guth in:


P.A.R. designed and performed this analysis and wrote most of the paper. S.S. performed the lake and reservoir CO2 and k analyses, and C.M. modelled lake and reservoir area data and provided material for these calculations for Supplementary Information. P.K. provided pCO2 data and helped with lake analyses. R.L. and J.H. produced the global CO2 data set. M.H. provided the GIS technical input. D.B. assisted with the GIS technical input and overall analysis and helped produce the figures. R.S. provided input on the use of USGS data and contributed to the overall analysis. E.M. provided COSCAT data on global discharge and dissolved organic carbon. H.D. provided COSCAT information and input on GIS analysis. P.K., C.H. and M.M. provided data for the lake CO2 global data set. P.C. provided assistance with the sensitivity analysis and writing the final paragraph. P.G. provided data necessary to determine average watershed area for COSCAT regions. All authors read and commented on drafts of this paper.

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Peter A. Raymond.

Supplementary information

PDF files

  1. 1.

    Supplementary Information

    This file contains Supplementary Text and Data, Supplementary Tables 1-4, Supplementary Figures 1-7 and additional references.

About this article

Publication history






Further reading


By submitting a comment you agree to abide by our Terms and Community Guidelines. If you find something abusive or that does not comply with our terms or guidelines please flag it as inappropriate.