GeoPRISMS: Scientific Results

The Fate of Soil OC in the Marine Environment: Examples from the Rapidly Eroding Landscapes of Two New Zealand North Island Rivers (2014)                                                                                                                                                                                                                    Blair, N.E., Leithold, E., Ginnane (Thompson), C. E., Childress L.B., and Fournillier, K.

Approximately 10% of the OC lost from soils as a result of land use has been argued to be delivered to the ocean (Lal 2003). The fate of this OC is highly dependent on the organic geochemical composition of the soil pool and the nature of the marine environment that receives it. The conversion of bush to pastureland via burning in the Waipaoa and Waiapu watersheds increased erosion rates by an order of magnitude. Surface and bank erosion, coupled with landsliding and gullying deliver OC to the rivers. Visual observations, sediment budgets, C-isotope (12C, 13C, 14C) mass balances and biomarker analyses all indicate that the OC is a mixture of recent plant debris, charcoal, aged soil C (< 18 kyrs old) and Cretaceous – Neogene sedimentary rock-derived C. The vastly different ages of the OC pools might be expected to lead to different reactivities and fates in the seabed. Nearshore wave-driven deposition-resuspension cycles winnow fines from sands in water depths ~<50 m. The sand-sized sedimentary OC is dominated by rock C. Younger fractions of soil C are transported primarily as fines to deeper water. Marine OC is added to the fine-grained sediments as they encounter zones of primary production. Dissolved inorganic C (DIC) within the interstitial (pore) waters of the marine sediments is a mixture of seawater DIC and benthic respired C. The C-isotopic composition of the DIC reflects its source. Stable isotope and radiocarbon measurements indicate that contemporary terrestrial C3 plant OC oxidation dominates respiration on the Waiapu shelf nearshore (~60 m). Marine OC is preferentially oxidized at water depths >80 m. The rock-derived C does not seem to be oxidized on the shelf or upper slope. A comparison of riverine particulate organic C (POC) with shelf depocenter OC concentrations suggest the Waipaoa and Waiapu soil C burial efficiencies are ~50 and 85% respectively. This does not consider the fate of soil C dispersed beyond the depocenter where preservation efficiencies are expected to be lower because of greater exposure times to O2 at the sediment-water interface. Nevertheless, these small rivers are more efficient at the sequestration of soil C than some tropical counterparts (e.g. Amazon and Fly) in which extensive oxidation of the terrestrial OC has been documented.


Potential links between onshore tectonics and terrestrial organic carbon delivery to distal submarine fan environments: IODP Site U1417, Surveyor Fan, Gulf of Alaska (2013)                                                                                                                                                              Childress, L., Ridgway, K., Blair, N., Bahlburg, H., Berbel, G., Cowan, E., Forwick, M., Gulick, S., Jaeger, J., März, C., McClymont, E., Moy, C., Muller, J., Nakamura, A., Ribeiro, F. and IODP Expedition 341 Scientists

The sedimentary record at Integrated Ocean Drilling Program (IODP) Site U1417 is particularly well preserved and permits delineation of Neogene tectonic, climatic, and terrestrial organic carbon signals. Lithofacies in the 708 m-long, cored interval can be divided into 3 sedimentary packages that we interpret as linked to the tectonic convergence of the Yakutat Terrane with, and onset of tidewater glaciation along, the continental margin of northwestern Canada and southern Alaska. Previous studies have shown that development of the Surveyor Fan system was closely linked to transport of the Yakutat Terrane and development of the Cordilleran Ice Sheet. Initial shipboard measurements of total organic carbon and observed plant and coal fragments imply good preservation of terrestrial organic matter. Furthermore, documented preservation of terrestrial organic matter in modern sediment along the southern Alaskan continental margin and sediment routing through the Surveyor Channel from the Pleistocene to modern time implies a long-term conduit for this organic material to reach the distal portion of the Surveyor Fan system. We interpret the lower units of U1417 (late Miocene) to have been deposited when the Yakutat Terrane was located offshore of northern British Columbia and/or southeastern Alaska. Northward transport of the Yakutat Terrane during the late Miocene is interpreted to have resulted in uplift and erosion of the Eocene coal-bearing Kulthieth Formation. We infer that eroded rock carbon from this formation was transported from the shelf to the earliest, or precursor to, the Surveyor Fan with depocenters infilling between seamounts. Detailed geochemical/biomarker analysis of Kulthieth Formation coals will provide a chemical fingerprint by which to identify this source of late Miocene sediment at U1417. Continued Pliocene – early Pleistocene northward convergence resulted in recycling of organic carbon from the onshore Neogene thrust belt of the Yakutat Terrane and the older uplifted parts of the Mesozoic continental margin to the distal submarine fan system. Since the early Pleistocene, the distal fan has been sourced from tidewater glaciers transporting sediment from the continental margin of south-central Alaska through the Surveyor Channel and related sediment pathways, levees, and overbank systems. We hypothesize that tectonic transport of the Yakutat Terrane and the onset of tidewater glaciation resulted in variation of the geochemical signature of ancient carbon delivered to the distal parts of the Surveyor Fan. Biomarker differences between the Neogene coal-bearing Kulthieth Formation and the Mesozoic continental strata material will allow us to confirm source material to the fan over the last ~ 10 Ma.


The burial of organic carbon over the last 10 kyr by the Waipaoa River, New Zealand sedimentary system (2013)                                    Blair, N.B., Childress, L.B., Fournillier, K., Leithold,L.

Small mountainous rivers (SMRs), most of which are located along active margins, play a unique role in marine and global carbon cycles. SMRs drain only ~20% of land, but deliver approximately 40% of the fluvial sediment to the global ocean. Unlike large passive margin systems in which riverine organic carbon (OC) is efficiently incinerated on continental shelves, SMR-dominated shelves are highly effective in the burial and preservation of OC. This is the result of the rapid, episodic delivery of OC derived from terrestrial vegetation, aged soil organic matter, and sedimentary rock OC. Most of our understanding concerning the carbon cycling dynamics of SMR systems is derived from modern, heavily anthropogenically impacted environments however. The nature and fluxes of OC prior to land use change is poorly documented. Erosion and depositional patterns associated with SMRs are affected by several large-scale forcing mechanisms, primarily climate and tectonics. To investigate the effect of natural and anthropogenic forcing on the geochemical record of a SMR we use the Waipaoa River, New Zealand. The Waipaoa River is a system of interest due to its large current sediment yield (6800 tons km-2 yr-1) and extensive characterization. Continental shelf cores collected offshore of the Waipaoa by the MATACORE group aboard the R/V Marion Dufresne extend to 10 kyr BP, and records climatic transitions with tectonic overprints in the region. The OC burial flux ranged from ~15-20 kg C m-2 kyr-1 at the location of one shelf core (MD 3007) approximately 3.5-10 kyr before present. This corresponds to a period of relatively rapid shoreline progradation. OC accumulation decreased to ~4-6 kg C m-2 kyr-1 after 3.5 kyr BP. Anthropogenic deforestation has caused OC burial fluxes to rebound to beyond the 3.5-10 kyr levels. Organic geochemical proxies, including δ13C, δ15N, and lignin phenols, indicate a depositional site that is dominated by riverine input. The proxies do not correlate strongly with mean burial fluxes but instead exhibit notable variability in response to shorter-termed events and processes. The exception is the anthropogenically dominated period that shows signatures consistent with increased inputs of soils. The insensitivity of the MD 3007 organic signatures to long-term burial rate argues that the fundamental characteristic of the Waipaoa sedimentary system, the episodic export of relatively recalcitrant OC to the shelf, overrides potential diagenetic impacts on OC compositions over much of the 10 kyr record.