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Global Charcoal Mobilization from Soils via Dissolution and Riverine Transport to the Oceans

Science  19 Apr 2013:
Vol. 340, Issue 6130, pp. 345-347
DOI: 10.1126/science.1231476

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Dissolving Charcoal

Biomass burning produces 40 to 250 million tons of charcoal per year worldwide. Much of this is preserved in soils and sediments for thousands of years. However, the estimated production rate of charcoal is significantly larger than that of decomposition, and Jaffe et al. (p. 345; see the Perspective by Masiello and Louchouarn) calculate that a large fraction of the charcoal produced by fires is lost from the land through dissolution and transport to the oceans.

Abstract

Global biomass burning generates 40 million to 250 million tons of charcoal every year, part of which is preserved for millennia in soils and sediments. We have quantified dissolution products of charcoal in a wide range of rivers worldwide and show that globally, a major portion of the annual charcoal production is lost from soils via dissolution and subsequent transport to the ocean. The global flux of soluble charcoal accounts to 26.5 ± 1.8 million tons per year, which is ~10% of the global riverine flux of dissolved organic carbon (DOC). We suggest that the mobilization of charcoal and DOC out of soils is mechanistically coupled. This study closes a major gap in the global charcoal budget and provides critical information in the context of geoengineering.

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