Carbon remineralization in the Amazon-Guianas tropical mobile mudbelt: A sedimentary incinerator

Robert C. Aller*, Neal E. Blair

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

157 Scopus citations


The Amazon River spawns a vast mobile mudbelt extending ∼1600 km from the equator to the Orinoco delta. Deposits along the Amazon-Guianas coastline are characterized by some of the highest Corg remineralization rates reported for estuarine, deltaic, or shelf deposits, however, paradoxically, except where stabilized by mangroves or intertidal algal mats, they are usually suboxic and nonsulfidic. A combination of tides, wind-driven waves, and coastal currents forms massive fluid muds and mobile surface sediment layers ∼0.5-2 m thick which are dynamically refluxed and frequently reoxidized. Overall, the seabed functions as a periodically mixed batch reactor, efficiently remineralizing organic matter in a gigantic sedimentary incinerator of global importance. Amazon River material entering the head of this dynamic dispersal system carries an initial terrestrial sedimentary Corg loading of ∼ 0.7 mg C m-2 particle surface area. Total Corg loading is lowered to ∼ 0.2 mg C m-2 in the proximal delta topset, ∼60-70% of which remains of terrestrial origin. Loading decreases further to 0.12-0.14 mg C m-2 (∼60% terrestrial) in mudbanks ∼600 km downdrift along French Guiana, values comparable to those found in the oligotrophic deepsea. DOC/ΣCO2 ratios in pore waters of French Guiana mudbanks indicate that >90% of metabolized organic substrates are completely oxidized. Within the Amazon delta topset at the head of the dispersal system, both terrestrial and marine organic matter contribute substantially to early diagenetic remineralization, although reactive marine substrate dominates (∼60-70%). The conditional rate constant for terrestrial Corg in the delta topset is ∼0.2 a-1. As sedimentary Corg is depleted during transit, marine sources become virtually the exclusive substrate for remineralization except very near the mangrove shoreline. The δ13C and Δ14C values of pore water ΣCO2 in mudbanks demonstrate that the primary source of remineralized organic matter within ∼1 km of shore is a small quantity of bomb signature marine plankton (+80‰). Thus, fresh marine organic material is constantly entrained into mobile deposits and increasingly drives early diagenetic reactions along the transit path. Relatively refractory terrestrial Corg is lost more slowly but steadily during sedimentary refluxing and suboxic diagenesis. Amazon Fan deposits formed during low sea level stand largely bypassed this suboxic sedimentary incinerator and stored material with up to ∼3X the modern high stand inner shelf Corg load (Keil et al., 1997b. Proceedings of the Ocean Drilling Program, Scientific Results. Vol. 155. pp. 531-537). Sedimentary dynamics, including frequency and magnitude of remobilization, and the nature of dispersal systems are clearly key controls on diagenetic processes, biogeochemical cycling, and global C storage along the continental margins.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2241-2259
Number of pages19
JournalContinental Shelf Research
Issue number17-18
StatePublished - Nov 2006

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Oceanography
  • Aquatic Science
  • Geology


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