Marine Science Faculty Publications

Quantification of Refractory Organic Material in Amazon Mudbanks of the French Guiana Coast

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Ramped pyrolysis, Mudbanks, Radiocarbon, Carbon cycling, Sedimentary organic material (SOM)

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Sub-oxic overturning mudbanks originating in the Amazon outlet and traveling northwestward along the coast of South America store 3.5 Tg organic carbon on the Amazon shelf, annually. The predominance of old soil carbon burial associated with the sediment has been supported by relatively old bulk radiocarbon ages (~ 2200–3200 14C y) reported, but this amount has yet to be quantified for this dynamic setting. Here, we employ ramped pyrolysis radiocarbon dating to mudbank sediments from three cores to further constrain the amount of refractory sedimentary organic carbon present. Using radiocarbon age as a proxy for reactivity, we find that at least 36% of this organic carbon is pre-aged refractory terrestrial organic carbon, likely sourced from terrestrial soils and averaging ages of 16,100 ± 300 14C y. This implies significant preservation of pre-aged terrestrial soil material in this marine environment despite the mobility and oxygen availability in the muds. Concurrently, an average of 77% of this organic material is aged over 1000 14C y, consistent with previous estimates that the majority of organic carbon buried along the shelf is refractory. Analyses of extracted lignin phenols and terrestrial humic acids also support this preservation of refractory terrestrial material. These data indicate that sediment discharged from the Amazon River may preserve refractory terrestrial carbon in marine sediments at a minimum of 3.1 Tg C/y, which is more efficient than originally thought.

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Marine Geology, v. 363, p. 93-101