Changes in riverine organic carbon input to the ocean from mainland China over the past 60 years


Compared to rivers in Europe and North America, Chinese rivers that discharge into oceans have different organic carbon (OC) transport  characteristics. Out of the top 25 largest rivers worldwide, three (Changjiang, Huanghe, and Zhujiang rivers) are located in China, along with numerous small rivers. Thus, synthesized estimates of total riverine OC flux from Chinese rivers into marginal seas are critical but remain deficient. In this study, we developed relationships between riverine OC (dissolved OC, or DOC, and particulate OC, or POC) and basin characteristic variables (basin population density, precipitation, and riverine suspended sediment concentration) to estimate annual riverine DOC and POC fluxes during 1953–2016. The results showed that rivers in mainland China transported 9.63 Tg C of OC to the marginal seas in 2008, with 4.61 Tg C of DOC and 5.02 Tg C of POC. Of this transported OC, 14.28% DOC and 17.49% POC were transported by small southeastern rivers, whose drainage areas covered only 6.68% of the total. Because of intensifying human activities, DOC export increased but POC export decreased during 1953–2016. Additionally, basin population growth and reservoir water capacity were the major factors for increasing DOC flux and decreasing POC flux, respectively. Overall, the DOC/POC ratio increased for OC transport in Chinese rivers. Therefore, this study is important for understanding human-induced impacts on environmental change and the carbon cycle in marginal seas.


Time series data during 1953–2016: (a) mean population density, precipitation, total reservoir capacity, and mean DOC/POC ratio in China; (b) modeled annual DOC fluxes and (c) POC fluxes of different rivers/zones. The total reservoir capacity was only available during 1953–2010.