The fate of terrestrial organic carbon in the Marine environment

Neal E. Blair*, Robert C. Aller

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

323 Scopus citations


Understanding the fate of terrestrial organic carbon (C org) delivered to oceans by rivers is critical for constraining models of biogeochemical cycling and Earth surface evolution. C org fate is dependent on both intrinsic characteristics (molecular structure, matrix) and the environmental conditions to which fluvial C org is subjected. Three distinct patterns are evident on continental margins supplied by rivers: (a) high-energy, mobile muds with enhanced oxygen exposure and efficient metabolite exchange have very low preservation of both terrestrial and marine C org (e.g., Amazon subaqueous delta); (b) low-energy facies with extreme accumulation have high C org preservation (e.g., Ganges-Brahmaputra); and (c) small, mountainous river systems that sustain average accumulation rates but deliver a large fraction of low-reactivity, fossil Corg in episodic events have the highest preservation efficiencies. The global patterns of terrestrial C org preservation reflect broadly different roles for passive and active margin systems in the sedimentary C org cycle.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)401-423
Number of pages23
JournalAnnual Review of Marine Science
StatePublished - Jan 1 2012


  • carbon preservation
  • continental margin
  • deltas
  • river
  • sediments
  • source to sink

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Oceanography

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