Hotspots in ground and surface water carbon fluxes through a freshwater to marine (mangrove) transition zone

Wednesday, 17 December 2014
Joshua Larsen1, Nina Welti2, Matthew Hayes1 and David A Lockington1, (1)The Univ of Queensland, Brisbane, Australia, (2)University of Eastern Finland, Joensuu, Finland
The transfer of carbon and water from coastal freshwater wetlands to intertidal and marine zones is significant for sustaining ecosystem processes, particularly within mangroves environments. Large increases in carbon and nutrient fluxes within spatially confined zones (hotspots) are significant as drivers for broader cycling. How these processes relate to the transfers between surface and groundwater systems, as well as the transition from freshwater to marine environments, remains poorly understood. We investigated the flux of carbon and water from a freshwater wetland, to a saltmarsh and then mangroves, both within the main surface channel and within a comprehensive shallow groundwater bore network. We were able to characterise the main spatial trends in water gradients and mixing (using salinity, hydraulic gradients, stable water isotopes, and temperature) over seasonal cycles. In addition, at the same time we investigated the changes in dissolved organic carbon concentration and quality (fluorescence, UV), as well as nutrients (NO3, NH4). This revealed the river and tidal channel to be a significant export pathway for organic carbon, which was generally highly aromatic and recalcitrant. However, we also found that isolated sections of the brackish groundwater mixing zone between freshwater and marine provided a consistently high DOC ‘hotspot’ of very high quality carbon. This hotspot has high lateral groundwater gradients and therefore likely transports this carbon to the rest of the mangrove subsurface, where it is rapidly assimilated. These results imply large spatial heterogeneity in the carbon cycling between freshwater and marine environments, and have significant implications for the processing of the organic matter, and therefore also the respiration of greenhouse gases such as CO2 and CH4.