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Human impact on long-term organic carbon export to rivers

Noacco, Valentina; Wagener, Thorsten; Worrall, Fred; Burt, Tim P.; Howden, Nicholas J.K.

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Valentina Noacco

Thorsten Wagener

Tim P. Burt

Nicholas J.K. Howden


Anthropogenic landscape alterations have increased global carbon transported by rivers to oceans since preindustrial times. Few suitable observational data sets exist to distinguish different drivers of carbon increase, given that alterations only reveal their impact on fluvial dissolved organic carbon (DOC) over long time periods. We use the world's longest record of DOC concentrations (130 years) to identify key drivers of DOC change in the Thames basin (UK). We show that 90% of the long-term rise in fluvial DOC is explained by increased urbanization, which released to the river 671 kt C over the entire period. This source of carbon is linked to rising population, due to increased sewage effluent. Soil disturbance from land use change explained shorter-term fluvial responses. The largest land use disturbance was during the Second World War, when almost half the grassland area in the catchment was converted into arable land, which released 45 kt C from soils to the river. Carbon that had built up in soils over decades was released to the river in only a few years. Our work suggests that widespread population growth may have a greater influence on fluvial DOC trends than previously thought.


Noacco, V., Wagener, T., Worrall, F., Burt, T. P., & Howden, N. J. (2017). Human impact on long-term organic carbon export to rivers. Journal of Geophysical Research: Biogeosciences, 122(4), 947-965.

Journal Article Type Article
Acceptance Date Mar 31, 2017
Online Publication Date Apr 28, 2017
Publication Date Apr 28, 2017
Deposit Date May 26, 2017
Publicly Available Date Jun 1, 2017
Journal Journal of Geophysical Research: Biogeosciences
Print ISSN 2169-8953
Electronic ISSN 2169-8961
Publisher American Geophysical Union
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 122
Issue 4
Pages 947-965


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Copyright Statement
©2017. The Authors. This is an open access article under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits use, distribution and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.

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