The radiocarbon age of organic carbon in marine surface sediments

TitleThe radiocarbon age of organic carbon in marine surface sediments
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2010
AuthorsGriffith, DR, Martin, WR, Eglinton, TI
Date PublishedDEC 1
Type of ArticleArticle

Long-term carbon cycling and climate change are strongly dependent on organic carbon (OC) burial in marine sediments. Radiocarbon ((14)C) 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 ((14)C(TOC)) accumulating in surface sediments we construct a box model that predicts (14)C(TOC) 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 (14)C(TOC) 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 delta(13)C(TOC) 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. 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. (C) 2010 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.