Simulating Transport and Understanding Future Fluxes of Organic Carbon in Rivers Draining into the Baltic Sea

University dissertation from Stockholm : Department of Environmental Science and Analytical Chemistry, Stockholm University

Abstract: Riverine organic (TOC, Total Organic Carbon) and inorganic (DIC, Dissolved Inorganic Carbon) carbon are the main sources of carbon in the Baltic Sea. While the importance of this contribution has been evaluated, there are currently several gaps in our knowledge of the mechanisms governing organic carbon dynamics in this region, especially for the particulate form, and the impact of future climate change on organic carbon transport. This licentiate thesis addresses this research deficit by (1) developing a model for assessing the flux of particulate organic carbon (POC), and by (2) simulating the potential climate effects on the transport and fate of TOC, both particulate and dissolved organic carbon, in the Baltic Sea environment.Study I developed a novel dynamic model for simulating the generation and transport of POC in all the major rivers discharging into the Baltic Sea. The POC load was assessed using algorithms for the processes governing the input i.e. erosion, litterfall and in-stream primary production. Using daily information on precipitation and temperature, the water discharge from each river was calculated. The total annual POC load from the Baltic Sea drainage basin was predicted within a factor of about 2 and was estimated to be 0.34 Tg POC, or 7-10 % of the annual TOC. The prediction of the timing of the monthly peak loads, however, was hampered by the current lack of field measurements of POC loads to the Baltic Sea.Study II assessed the potential future climate effects on riverine TOC (particulate and dissolved organic carbon, DOC) in the Baltic Sea drainage basin. A small decrease in POC load (-7 %) was predicted and no changes in DOC load on an annual and total basin scale, but the simulations showed significant variations between seasons and across sub-basins by the end of this century. Seasonal total loads were predicted to increase in winter and decrease in summer. Due to counterbalancing increases and decreases in predicted TOC loads in various parts of the Baltic Sea catchment, the impact of climate change on the total carbon budget in this region was limited. However, our simulation results indicated significant differences over time in POC and DOC export across the six Baltic Sea sub-basins, and an altered seasonal pattern in the timing and magnitude of the delivery.This thesis comprises a first attempt to better describe the mechanisms and dynamics of OC generation and transport in the Baltic Sea catchment and assess the potential climate effects on the transport with a spatiotemporal resolution. The work provides a starting point for further development of the understanding of large scale organic carbon export and how it may be affected in the future. This thesis also discuss the role of riverine organic carbon in biogeochemical processes, food web structures and contaminant transport in inland, coastal and marine waters.