Carbon cycling in Lake Superior

N. R. Urban, Michigan Technological University
M. T. Auer, Michigan Technological University
Sarah A. Green, Michigan Technological University
X. Lu, Michigan Technological University
D. S. Apul, Michigan Technological University
K. D. Powell, Michigan Technological University
L. Bub, Michigan Technological University

Copyright 2005 by the American Geophysical Union. Publisher's version of record: https://dx.doi.org/10.1029/2003JC002230

Abstract

Carbon (C) cycling in Lake Superior was studied within the Keweenaw Interdisciplinary Transport Experiment in Superior (KITES) project to assess (1) whether the lake is net heterotrophic, (2) sources, sinks and residence time for dissolved organic carbon (DOC), (3) importance of terrigenous organic C subsidies, and (4) factors limiting C flow through bacteria. During 3 years of fieldwork, measurements were made of spatial and temporal distributions of C pools and rates of photosynthesis, community respiration, and bacterial production. Measurements were made of the composition of dissolved organic matter (DOM), rates of DOM photolysis, lability of DOM toward microbial consumption, and river inputs of DOM. All measurements suggest the lake is net heterotrophic. The C:N ratios of DOM suggest that it is primarily of terrigenous origin, but other characteristics (size distribution, UV absorption) point to the presence of autochthonous DOM and to alteration of terrigenous material. The lake mass balance indicates that the residence time (∼8 years) of the DOC pool (17 Tg) is short relative to the hydrologic residence time (170 years). The known flux of terrigenous DOC (∼1 Tg/yr) is too low to support annual bacterial carbon demand (6–38 Tg/yr), but microbial respiration is the major sink for terrigenous DOC. A rapidly cycling, autochthonous DOC pool must exist. Microbial activity was correlated with temperature, phosphorus availability, and DOC concentration but not with photosynthesis rates. Measurements of respiration (∼40 Tg/yr), photosynthesis (2–7 Tg/yr), and bacterial production (0.5–2 Tg/yr) are not all mutually compatible and result in a discrepancy in the organic carbon budget.