Coal fly ash is a major carbon flux in the Chang Jiang (Yangtze River) basin

TitleCoal fly ash is a major carbon flux in the Chang Jiang (Yangtze River) basin
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2021
AuthorsLi, GK, Fischer, WW, Lamb, MP, A. West, J, Zhang, T, Galy, V, Wang, XTony, Li, S, Qiu, H, Li, G, Zhao, L, Chen, J, Ji, J
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences
Date PublishedJan-05-2023

Fly ash-the residuum of coal burning-contains a considerable amount of fossilized particulate organic carbon (FOCash) that remains after high-temperature combustion. Fly ash leaks into natural environments and participates in the contemporary carbon cycle, but its reactivity and flux remained poorly understood. We characterized FOCash in the Chang Jiang (Yangtze River) basin, China, and quantified the riverine FOCash fluxes. Using Raman spectral analysis, ramped pyrolysis oxidation, and chemical oxidation, we found that FOCash is highly recalcitrant and unreactive, whereas shale-derived FOC (FOCrock) was much more labile and easily oxidized. By combining mass balance calculations and other estimates of fly ash input to rivers, we estimated that the flux of FOCash carried by the Chang Jiang was 0.21 to 0.42 Mt C center dot y-1 in 2007 to 2008-an amount equivalent to 37 to 72% of the total riverine FOC export. We attributed such high flux to the combination of increasing coal combustion that enhances FOCash production and the massive construction of dams in the basin that reduces the flux of FOCrock eroded from upstream mountainous areas. Using global ash data, a first-order estimate suggests that FOCash makes up to 16% of the present-day global riverine FOC flux to the oceans. This reflects a substantial impact of anthropogenic activities on the fluxes and burial of fossil organic carbon that has been made less reactive than the rocks from which it was derived.