Radiocarbon and stable-isotope geochemistry of organic and inorganic carbon in Lake Superior

TitleRadiocarbon and stable-isotope geochemistry of organic and inorganic carbon in Lake Superior
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2012
AuthorsZigah, PK, Minor, EC, Werne, JP
Date PublishedMAR 14
Type of ArticleArticle

We present a lake-wide investigation of Lake Superior carbon and organic matter biogeochemistry using radiocarbon, stable isotope, and carbon concentrations. Dissolved inorganic carbon (DIC) abundance in the lake was 121-122 Tg C, with offshore concentration and delta C-13 values being laterally homogenous and tightly coupled to the physical and thermal regime and biochemical processes. Offshore Delta C-14 of DIC (50-65%) exhibited lateral homogeneity and was more C-14 enriched than co-occurring atmospheric CO2 (similar to 38%); nearshore Delta C-14 of DIC (36-38%) was similar to atmospheric CO2. Dissolved organic carbon (DOC) abundance was 14.2-16.4 Tg C. DOC's concentration and delta C-13 were homogenous in June (mixed lake), but varied laterally during August (stratification) possibly due to spatial differences in lake productivity. Throughout sampling, DOC had modern radiocarbon values (14-58%) indicating a semilabile nature with a turnover time of <= 60 years. Lake particulate organic carbon (POC, 0.9-1.3 Tg C) was consistently C-13 depleted relative to DOC. The delta N-15 of epilimnetic particulate organic nitrogen shifted to more negative values during stratification possibly indicating greater use of nitrate (rather than ammonium) by phytoplankton in August. POC's radiocarbon was spatially heterogeneous (Delta C-14 range: 58% to - 303%), and generally C-14 depleted relative to DOC and DIC. POC C-14 depletion could not be accounted for by black carbon in the lake but, because of its spatial and temporal distribution, is attributed to sediment resuspension. The presence of old POC within the epilimnion of the open lake indicates possible benthic-pelagic coupling in the lake's organic carbon cycle; the ultimate fate of this old POC bears further investigation.