Warming drives dissolved organic carbon export from pristine alpine soils

Andrew R. Pearson, Bethany Fox, John Hellstrom, Marcus J. Vandergoes, Sebastian F.M. Breitenbach, Russell Drysdale, Sebastian N. Höpker, Christopher T. Wood, Martin Schiller, Adam Hartland

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Despite decades of research, the influence of climate on the export of dissolved organic carbon (DOC) from soil remains poorly constrained, adding uncertainty to global carbon models. The limited temporal range of contemporary monitoring data, ongoing climate reorganisation and confounding anthropogenic activities muddy the waters further. Here, we reconstruct DOC leaching over the last ~14,000 years using alpine environmental archives (two speleothems and one lake sediment core) across 4° of latitude from Te Waipounamu/South Island of Aotearoa New Zealand. We selected broadly comparable palaeoenvironmental archives in mountainous catchments, free of anthropogenically-induced landscape changes prior to ~1200 C.E. We show that warmer temperatures resulted in increased allochthonous DOC export through the Holocene, most notably during the Holocene Climatic Optimum (HCO), which was some 1.5–2.5 °C warmer than the late pre-industrial period—then decreased during the cooler mid-Holocene. We propose that temperature exerted the key control on the observed doubling to tripling of soil DOC export during the HCO, presumably via temperature-mediated changes in vegetative soil C inputs and microbial degradation rates. Future warming may accelerate DOC export from mountainous catchments, with implications for the global carbon cycle and water quality.
Original languageEnglish
Article number3522
Number of pages15
JournalNature Communications
Issue number1
Early online date25 Apr 2024
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 25 Apr 2024

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