Geomorphically mediated carbon dynamics of floodplain soils and Implications for net effect of carbon erosion

Timothy A. Quine, Elizabeth L. Cressey, Jennifer A. J. Dungait, Sarah de Baets, Jeroen Meersmans, Matthew W. Jones, Andrew P. Nicholas

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The fate of organic carbon deposited in floodplain sediments is an important control on the magnitude and direction of the carbon flux from anthropogenically accelerated erosion and channelization of the riverine network. Globally, carbon deposition rates and mean residence time (MRT) within different geomorphic settings remains poorly constrained. We sampled soil profiles to 0.8 m depth from two geomorphic zones: active channel belt (ACB) and lowland floodplain, under long-term pasture adjacent to the river Culm in SW England, UK. We evaluated sedimentation rates and carbon storage using fallout radionuclide 137Cs, particle size and total carbon analyses. Variation in decomposition was assessed via empirical (soil aggregate size, density fractionation combined with natural abundance 13C analysis) and modelling simulation (using the RothC model and catchment implications explored using a floodplain evolution model). Sedimentation and carbon accumulation rates were 5–6 times greater in the ACB than the floodplain. Carbon decomposition rates also varied with geomorphic setting. In floodplain cores, faster decomposition rates were indicated by greater 13C-enrichment and subsoils dominated by mineral-associated soil organic carbon. Whereas, in the ACB, carbon was less processed and 13C-depleted, with light fraction and macroaggregate-carbon throughout the cores, and RothC modelled decomposition rates were 4-fold less than lowland floodplain cores. Including the ACB in floodplain carbon MRT calculations increased overall MRT by 10%. The major differences in the balance of sedimentation and decomposition rates between active and inactive floodplains suggests the relative extent of these contrasting zones is critical to the overall carbon balance. Restoration projects could enhance soil carbon storage by maximizing active floodplain areas by increasing river channel complexity.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere14657
JournalHydrological Processes
Issue number9
Early online date2 Aug 2022
Publication statusPublished - Sep 2022


  • floodplain
  • sedimentation
  • stable isotopes
  • carbon dynamics
  • source/sink
  • mean residence time
  • erosion
  • carbon storage

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