Carbon fate in a large temperate human-impacted river system: Focus on benthic dynamics

Lauriane Vilmin*, Nicolas Flipo, Nicolas Escoffier, Vincent Rocher, Alexis Groleau

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to JournalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Fluvial networks play an important role in regional and global carbon (C) budgets. The Seine River, from the Paris urban area to the entrance of its estuary (220 km), is studied here as an example of a large human-impacted river system subject to temperate climatic conditions. We assess organic C (OC) budgets upstream and downstream from one of the world's largest wastewater treatment plants and for different hydrological conditions using a hydrobiogeochemical model. The fine representation of sediment accumulation on the river bed allows for the quantification of pelagic and benthic effects on OC export toward the estuary and on river metabolism (i.e., net CO2 production). OC export is significantly affected by benthic dynamics during the driest periods, when 25% of the inputs to the system is transformed or stored in the sediment layer. Benthic processes also substantially affect river metabolism under any hydrological condition. On average, benthic respiration accounts for one third of the total river respiration along the studied stretch (0.27 out of 0.86 g C m−2 d−1). Even though the importance of benthic processes was already acknowledged by the scientific community for headwater streams, these results stress the major influence of benthic dynamics, and thus of physical processes such as sedimentation and resuspension, on C cycling in downstream river systems. It opens the door to new developments in the quantification of C emissions by global models, whereby biogeochemical processing and benthic dynamics should be taken into account.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1086-1104
Number of pages19
JournalGlobal Biogeochemical Cycles
Issue number7
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jul 2016
Externally publishedYes


  • benthic and pelagic dynamics
  • carbon
  • human-impacted system
  • hydrobiogeochemical modeling
  • river export and metabolism
  • sediment-water exchanges


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