High Dissolved Carbon Concentration in Arid Rocky Mountain Streams

Devon Kerins, Li Li

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Scopus citations


Warming in mountains is known to intensify aridity and threaten water availability globally. Its impacts on water quality, however, have remained poorly understood. Here we collate long-term (multi-year to decadal mean), baseline stream concentrations and fluxes of dissolved organic and inorganic carbon, two essential indicators of water quality and soil carbon response to warming, across more than 100 streams in the United States Rocky Mountains. Results show a universal pattern of higher mean concentrations in more arid mountain streams with lower mean discharge, a long-term climate measure. A watershed reactor model revealed less lateral export of dissolved carbon (via less water flow) out of the watersheds in more arid sites, leading to more accumulation and higher concentrations. Lower concentrations typically occur in cold, steep, and compact mountains with higher snow fraction and lower vegetation cover, which generally have higher discharge and carbon fluxes. Inferring from a space-for-time perspective, the results indicate that as warming intensifies, lateral fluxes of dissolved carbon will decrease but concentrations will increase in these mountain streams. This indicates deteriorating water quality and potentially elevated CO2 emission directly from the land (instead of streams) in the Rockies and other mountain areas in the future climate.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)4656-4667
Number of pages12
JournalEnvironmental Science and Technology
Issue number11
StatePublished - Mar 21 2023

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Chemistry
  • Environmental Chemistry

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