Benthic fluxes and porewater concentration profiles of dissolved organic carbon in sediments from the North Carolina continental slope

Marc J. Alperin*, Christopher S. Martens, Daniel B. Albert, Ismail B. Suayah, Larry K. Benninger, Neal E. Blair, Richard A. Jahnke

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

85 Scopus citations


Numerous studies of marine environments show that dissolved organic carbon (DOC) concentrations in sediments are typically tenfold higher than in the overlying water. Large concentration gradients near the sediment-water interface suggest that there may be a significant flux of organic carbon from sediments to the water column. Furthermore, accumulation of DOC in the porewater may influence the burial and preservation of organic matter by promoting geopolymerization and/or adsorption reactions. We measured DOC concentration profiles (for porewater collected by centrifugation and 'sipping') and benthic fluxes (with in situ and shipboard chambers) at two sites on the North Carolina continental slope to better understand the controls on porewater DOC concentrations and quantify sediment-water exchange rates. We also measured a suite of sediment properties (e.g., sediment accumulation and bioturbation rates, organic carbon content, and mineral surface area) that allow us to examine the relationship between porewater DOC concentrations and organic carbon preservation. Sediment depth-distributions of DOC from a downslope transect (300-1000 m water depth) follow a trend consistent with other porewater constituents (ΣCO2 and SO42-) and a tracer of modern, fine-grained sediment (fallout Pu), suggesting that DOC levels are regulated by organic matter remineralization. However, remineralization rates appear to be relatively uniform across the sediment transect. A simple diagenetic model illustrates that variations in DOC profiles at this site may be due to differences in the depth of the active remineralization zone, which in turn is largely controlled by the intensity of bioturbation. Comparison of porewater DOC concentrations, organic carbon burial efficiency, and organic matter sorption suggest that DOC levels are not a major factor in promoting organic matter preservation or loading on grain surfaces. The DOC benthic fluxes are difficult to detect, but suggest that only 2% of the dissolved organic carbon escapes remineralization in the sediments by transport across the sediment-water interface.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)427-448
Number of pages22
JournalGeochimica et Cosmochimica Acta
Issue number3-4
StatePublished - Feb 1999

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geochemistry and Petrology

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