Deposition of bomb 14C in continental slope sediments of the Mid-Atlantic Bight: Assessing organic matter sources and burial rates

D. J. DeMaster*, C. J. Thomas, N. E. Blair, W. L. Fornes, G. Plaia, L. A. Levin

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

25 Scopus citations


As part of the Ocean Margins Program (OMP), organic carbon 14C measurements have been made on benthic fauna and kasten core sediments from the North Carolina continental slope. These analyses are used to evaluate the nature and burial flux of organic matter in the OMP study area off Cape Hatteras. Despite the fact that surface sediment 14C contents ranged from -41 to -215 per mil, the benthic fauna (primarily polychaetes) all contained significant amounts of bomb-14C (body tissue 14C contents ranging from +20 to +82 per mil). Bomb-14C clearly is reaching the seabed on the North Carolina slope, and the labile planktonic material carrying this signal is a primary source of nutrition to the benthic ecosystem. The enrichment of 14C in benthic faunal tissue relative to the 14C content of bulk surface-sediment organic matter (a difference of ∼ 150 per mil) is attributed to a combination of particle selection and selective digestive processes. Organic carbon burial rates from 12 stations on the North Carolina slope varied from 0.02 to 1.7 mol of Cm-2yr-1, with a mean value of 0.7mol of Cm-2yr-1. The accumulation of organic matter on the upper slope accounts for <1% of the primary production in the entire continental margin system. The North Carolina margin was deliberately selected because of its potential for offshore transport and high sediment deposition rates, and even in this environment, burial of organic carbon accounts for a very small fraction of the primary production occurring in surface waters.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)4667-4685
Number of pages19
JournalDeep-Sea Research Part II: Topical Studies in Oceanography
Issue number20
StatePublished - Oct 30 2002

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Oceanography

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