Treated wastewater changes the export of dissolved inorganic carbon and its isotopic composition and leads to acidification in coastal oceans

Human-induced changes to carbon fluxes across the land-ocean interface can influence the global carbon cycle, yet the impacts of rapid urbanization and establishment of wastewater treatment plants (WWTPs) on coastal ocean carbon cycles are poorly known. This is unacceptable as at present ~64% of global municipal wastewater is treated before discharge. Here, we report surface water dissolved inorganic carbon (DIC) and sedimentary organic carbon concentrations and their isotopic compositions in the rapidly urbanized Jiaozhou Bay in northeast China as well as carbonate parameters in effluents of three large WWTPs around the bay. Using DIC, δ13CDIC and total alkalinity (TA) data and a tracer model, we determine the contributions to DIC from wastewater DIC input, net community production, calcium carbonate precipitation and CO2 outgassing. Our study shows that high-DIC and low-pH wastewater effluent represents an important source of DIC and acidification in coastal waters. In contrast to the traditional view of anthropogenic organic carbon export and degradation, we suggest that with the increase of wastewater discharge and treatment rates, wastewater DIC input may play an increasingly more important role in the coastal ocean carbon cycle.

Yang X., Xue L., Li Y., Han P., Liu X., Zhang L. & Cai W.-J., in press. Treated wastewater changes the export of dissolved inorganic carbon and its isotopic composition and leads to acidification in coastal oceans. Environmental Science and Technology. Article.

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