Sediment organic matter compositional changes in a tropical rift lake as a function of water depth and distance from shore

TitleSediment organic matter compositional changes in a tropical rift lake as a function of water depth and distance from shore
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2022
AuthorsKruger, BR, Werne, JP, Minor, EC
JournalOrganic Geochemistry
Date Published11/2022
Keywords-Alcohols, C/N ratio, carbon isotopes, Lake Malawi, Protokerogen, radiocarbon, Sedimentary organic carbon

Little is known of modern carbon cycling in East African rift lakes. These large tropical systems with anoxic bottom waters can act as test cases for carbon cycling under future climate change scenarios as well as key sediment repositories for paleolimnology studies and fossil fuel generation. This study is the first to combine stable and radiocarbon isotopic information on bulk sediment and biomarkers (n-alcohols) in an African rift lake by investigating surface sediments collected on a nearshore to offshore transect in northern Lake Malawi. This study is also the first to report radiocarbon content in water column particulate organic, dissolved organic and inorganic carbon from an African rift lake. General surface-sediment trends with increasing water depth were an increase in %TOC, and decreases in grain size, δ13C and C/N. Carbon radioisotope analyses showed that bulk sedimentary organic matter was modern across the transect. Biomarker data indicated a primarily aquatic origin for sedimentary organic matter at offshore sites; terrestrial material dominated the n-alcohol signature closest to the shore. Protokerogen stable isotope signatures were similar, and radiocarbon was somewhat depleted relative to bulk sediment organic matter. As compared to bulk organic matter, lipids were 13C-depleted throughout the sampling transect and 14C-depleted at the most nearshore location. This indicates an aged lipid carbon source and likely significant diagenetic alteration of modern sources prior to deposition in nearshore sediments, perhaps a combination of soil erosion, in-river processing, sediment resuspension and mobilization, and preferential degradation of younger organic matter in the oxic nearshore region.