Document Type



Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor's Name

Rudolf Jaffé

First Advisor's Committee Title

Committee Chair

Second Advisor's Name

Leonard J. Scinto

Third Advisor's Name

J. Martin E. Quirke

Fourth Advisor's Name

Piero R. Gardinali

Fifth Advisor's Name

Yong Cai


dissolved black carbon, charcoal, dissolved organic matter, aquatic ecosystem, grassland stream, wetland, boreal forest, glacier, black nitrogen, soil

Date of Defense



Black carbon (BC), the incomplete combustion product from biomass and fossil fuel burning, is ubiquitously found in soils, sediments, ice, water and atmosphere. Because of its polyaromatic molecular characteristic, BC is believed to contribute significantly to the global carbon budget as a slow-cycling, refractory carbon pool. However, the mass balance between global BC generation and accumulation does not match, suggesting a removal mechanism of BC to the active carbon pool, most probable in a dissolved form. The presence of BC in waters as part of the dissolved organic matter (DOM) pool was recently confirmed via ultrahigh resolution mass spectrometry, and dissolved black carbon (DBC), a degradation product of charcoal, was found in marine and coastal environments. However, information on the loadings of DBC in freshwater environments and its global riverine flux from terrestrial systems to the oceans remained unclear.

The main objectives of this study were to quantify DBC in diverse aquatic ecosystems and to determine its environmental dynamics. Surface water samples were collected from aquatic environments with a spatially significant global distribution, and DBC concentrations were determined by a chemical oxidation method coupled with HPLC detection. While it was clear that biomass burning was the main sources of BC, the translocation mechanism of BC to the dissolved phase was not well understood. Data from the regional studies and the developed global model revealed a strong positive correlation between DBC and dissolved organic carbon (DOC) dynamics, indicating a co-generation and co-translocation between soil OC and BC. In addition, a DOC-assistant DBC translocation mechanism was identified. Taking advantage of the DOC-DBC correlation model, a global riverine DBC flux to oceans on the order of 26.5 Mt C yr-1 (1 Mt = 1012 g) was determined, accounting for 10.6% of the global DOC flux. The results not only indicated that DOC was an important environmental intermediate for BC transfer and storage, but also provided an estimate of a major missing link in the global BC budget. The ever increasing DBC export caused by global warming will change the marine DOM quality and may have important consequences for carbon cycling in marine ecosystem.





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