Letter | Published:

Significant fraction of CO2 emissions from boreal lakes derived from hydrologic inorganic carbon inputs

Nature Geoscience volume 8, pages 933936 (2015) | Download Citation


Annual CO2 emissions from lakes and other inland waters into the atmosphere are estimated to almost entirely compensate the total annual carbon uptake by oceans1,2,3. CO2 supersaturation in lakes, which results in CO2 emissions, is frequently attributed to CO2 produced within the lake4,5,6,7,8. However, lateral inorganic carbon flux through watersheds can also be sizeable9,10,11. Here we calculated lake surface water CO2 concentrations and emissions using lake pH, alkalinity and temperature from a compilation of data from 5,118 boreal lakes12. Autumn surface water CO2 concentrations and CO2 emissions from the 5,118 lakes co-varied with lake internal autumn CO2 production. However, using a mass balance approach we found that CO2 emission in the majority of lakes was sustained by inorganic carbon loading from the catchment rather than by internal CO2 production. Small lakes with high dissolved organic carbon and phosphorus concentrations, shorter retention times and longer ice-free seasons had the highest CO2 concentrations. CO2 emissions from these small lakes was twice that of comparable lakes in colder regions, and similar to emissions from subtropical and tropical lakes. We conclude that changes in land use and climate that increase dissolved inorganic carbon may cause emission levels from boreal lakes to approach those of lakes in warmer regions.

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Financial support was received from the Swedish Research Council (VR), the Swedish Research Council for Environment, Agricultural Sciences and Spatial Planning (FORMAS), the Knut and Alice Wallenberg Foundation and the European Union (C-CASCADES project). This work is part of and profited from the networks financed by Nordforsk (CRAICC and DOMQUA), National Science Foundation (GLEON) and the Norwegian Research Council (Norklima ECCO). S.K. was supported by NWO-VENI grant 86312012. E.J. was supported by the MARS project (Managing Aquatic ecosystems and water Resources under multiple Stress) funded under the 7th EU Framework Programme, Theme 6 (Environment including Climate Change), Contract No.: 603378 (http://www.mars-project.eu). Many thanks go to the Swedish Environmental Protection Agency and the staff of the laboratory of the Department of Aquatic Sciences and Assessment for financing, sampling and analysing thousands of water, and to the Swedish Meteorological and Hydrological Institute for making meteorological data freely available.

Author information


  1. Department of Ecology and Genetics/Limnology, Uppsala University, Norbyvägen 18D, 752 36 Uppsala, Sweden

    • Gesa A. Weyhenmeyer
    • , Marcus B. Wallin
    •  & Lars J. Tranvik
  2. Department of Aquatic Ecology and Environmental Biology, Institute for Water and Wetland Research, Radboud University, Heyendaalseweg 135, 6525AF Nijmegen, The Netherlands

    • Sarian Kosten
  3. Department of Earth Sciences, Uppsala University, Villavägen 16, 752 36 Uppsala, Sweden

    • Marcus B. Wallin
  4. Department of Bioscience and Arctic Research Centre, Aarhus University, Vejlsøvej 25 8600 Silkeborg, Denmark

    • Erik Jeppesen
  5. Sino-Danish Centre for Education and Research (UCAS), Beijing 100049, China

    • Erik Jeppesen
  6. Department of Biology, Juiz de Fora Federal University, 36.036-900 Juiz de Fora, Brazil

    • Fabio Roland


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G.A.W. designed the study. All authors contributed with data and/or equations, and all authors made substantial contributions to the methods, the results, the discussion and the conclusions.

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Gesa A. Weyhenmeyer.

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