The radiocarbon age of organic carbon in marine surface sediments
Griffith, David R.
Martin, William R.
Eglinton, Timothy I.
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Long-term carbon cycling and climate change are strongly dependent on organic carbon (OC) burial in marine sediments. Radiocarbon (14C) has been widely used to constrain the sources, sinks, and processing of sedimentary OC. To elucidate the dominant controls on the radiocarbon content of total organic carbon (14CTOC) accumulating in surface sediments we construct a box model that predicts 14CTOC in the sediment mixed layer (measured as fraction modern, Fm). Our model defines three distinct OC pools (“degradable,” “semi-labile,” and “refractory”) and assumes that 14CTOC flux to sediments is exclusively derived from surface ocean primary productivity, and hence follows a “generic” surface ocean dissolved inorganic carbon (DIC) bomb curve. Model predictions are compared to a set of 75 surface sediment samples, which span a wide geographic range and reflect diverse water column and depositional conditions, and for which sedimentation rate and mixed layer depth are well characterized. Our model overestimates the Fm value for a majority (65%) of these sites, especially at shallow water depths and for sites characterized by depleted δ13CTOC values. The model is most sensitive to sedimentation rate and mixed-layer depth. Therefore, slight changes to these parameters can lead to a match between modeled and measured Fm values at many sites. Because of model sensitivity, slight changes in sedimentation rate and mixed layer depth can allow predictions to match measured Fm at many sites. Yet, in some cases, we find that measured Fm values cannot be simulated without large and unrealistic changes to sedimentation rate and mixed layer depth. These results point to sources of pre-aged OC to surface sediments and implicate soil-derived terrestrial OC, reworked marine OC, and/or anthropogenic carbon as important components of the organic matter present in surface sediments. This approach provides a valuable framework within which to explore controls on sedimentary organic matter composition and carbon burial over a range of spatial and temporal scales.
Author Posting. © The Author(s), 2010. This is the author's version of the work. It is posted here by permission of Elsevier B.V. for personal use, not for redistribution. The definitive version was published in Geochimica et Cosmochimica Acta 74 (2010): 6788-6800, doi:10.1016/j.gca.2010.09.001.
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