CO2 evasion along streams driven by groundwater inputs and geomorphic controls

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Headwaters are hotspots of carbon dioxide (CO2) evasion from rivers. While emerging evidence suggests that groundwater contributes disproportionately to CO2 in headwater streams, the processes of CO2 delivery to streams and subsequent evasion to the atmosphere remain largely unknown. Here we show the variability of CO2 input and evasion fluxes based on coupled measurements of dissolved CO2 along streams and in adjacent groundwater from two headwater catchments of the tropical and temperate zones. We find that the processes can be highly localized in both space and time. Spatially, they are significantly influenced by heterogeneities in the subsurface and stream landscape; temporally, they predominately occur during the transient activation of connected subsurface water flows. We highlight sharp increases and decreases in the stream CO2 flux, and suggest that current models fail to capture the true magnitude of CO2 evasion. The high spatial and temporal variability of CO2 input from groundwater and evasion to the atmosphere makes accurate assessment of CO2 evasion fluxes difficult, and will require a collaborative effort by catchment hydrologists and aquatic ecologists to fully understand the contribution of groundwater to stream CO2 emissions.

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Fig. 1: Conceptual diagram of the subsurface and stream heterogeneities contributing to CO2 variations in headwater streams.
Fig. 2: Illustration of CO2 evasion within short distance of subsurface inflows.

Data availability

The data that support the findings of this study are available from the corresponding author upon request.


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We acknowledge funding from the Australian Research Council (DP160101497), the German Research Foundation (project 718 BA 2207/10-1) and the French Institut de Recherche pour le Développement. D.E.B. was partially supported by a NASA Carbon Cycle Science grant (NNX17AI74G). We thank M. S. Johnson, J. B. Shanley and D. H. Doctor for sharing important site information and data, and J. A. C. Barth for insightful comments on an earlier version of the manuscript. This paper also benefited from discussions with M. I. Bird, M. Rudge and R. T. Barnes. We acknowledge the Lao Department of Agricultural Land Management and the M-TROPICS observatory for access to the Houay Pano site, as well as the Czech Geological Survey for access to the Uhlirska site. N. Silvera, K. Latsachack, J.-P. Thiébaut, K. Xayyathip, M. Sanda, J. Jankovec and A. Kulasova are thanked for fieldwork assistance.

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C.D. conceived the analysis and carried out the literature review and data analysis. D.E.B. contributed to the conceptual development of the manuscript, data analysis and presentation. L.B.H. was involved with discussions particularly during early stages of the manuscript. A.M. collected the ‘Uhlirska’ dataset and contributed to data analysis. O.R. and C.D. collected the ‘Houay Pano’ dataset. C.D. wrote the first draft and all authors edited and commented on various iterations of the manuscript.

Correspondence to Clément Duvert.

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Duvert, C., Butman, D.E., Marx, A. et al. CO2 evasion along streams driven by groundwater inputs and geomorphic controls. Nature Geosci 11, 813–818 (2018) doi:10.1038/s41561-018-0245-y

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