Carbon isotope geochemistry of the Santa Clara River

TitleCarbon isotope geochemistry of the Santa Clara River
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2001
AuthorsMasiello, CA, Druffel, ERM
JournalGlobal Biogeochemical Cycles
Date PublishedJun
Accession NumberWOS:000169233200011

The Santa Clara River is a prototypical small mountainous river, with a headwater height greater than 1000 m and a basin area smaller than 10,000 m(2). Although individual small mountainous rivers export trivial amounts of sediment and carbon to the ocean, as a group these rivers may export a major fraction las much as 50%) of the total global river sediment flux [Milliman and Syvitski, 1992], making their geochemistry relevant the study of the ocean's carbon cycle. In addition, many small rivers export sediment in a few high flux events, causing massive, sporadic discharge of carbon onto coastal shelves, discharge conditions very different from those of large rivers. This class of rivers is an end-member of the river-ocean carbon exchange system, opposite the Earth's largest river, the Amazon. The carbon mass and isotopic properties of the Santa Clara River are significantly different from previously studied large rivers. During the 1997-1998 winter, all Santa Clara carbon pools were old, with flux-weighted average Delta (14)C values of -428 +/- 76 parts per thousand for particulate organic carbon, -73 +/- 31 parts per thousand for dissolved organic carbon, and -644 +/- 58 parts per thousand for black carbon. The age of exported carbon is primarily due to the deep erosion of old soils and not to inclusion of fossil fuel carbon. Additionally, the delta (13)C signatures of exported carbon pools were high relative to terrestrial carbon, bearing a signature quite similar to marine carbon (average particulate organic carbon (POC) delta (13)C = -22.2 +/- 0.8 parts per thousand). The Santa Clara's estuary is small and drains onto the narrow eastern Pacific coastal margin, exporting this old soil organic matter directly into the ocean. If the Santa Clara export patterns are representative of this class of rivers, they may be a significant source of refractory terrestrial carbon to the ocean.