OPEN Nature communications | 25 Feb 2018
L Bröder, T Tesi, A Andersson, I Semiletov and Ö Gustafsson
The burial of terrestrial organic carbon (terrOC) in marine sediments contributes to the regulation of atmospheric CO2on geological timescales and may mitigate positive feedback to present-day climate warming. However, the fate of terrOC in marine settings is debated, with uncertainties regarding its degradation during transport. Here, we employ compound-specific radiocarbon analyses of terrestrial biomarkers to determine cross-shelf transport times. For the World’s largest marginal sea, the East Siberian Arctic shelf, transport requires 3600 ± 300 years for the 600 km from the Lena River to the Laptev Sea shelf edge. TerrOC was reduced by ~85% during transit resulting in a degradation rate constant of 2.4 ± 0.6 kyr-1. Hence, terrOC degradation during cross-shelf transport constitutes a carbon source to the atmosphere over millennial time. For the contemporary carbon cycle on the other hand, slow terrOC degradation brings considerable attenuation of the decadal-centennial permafrost carbon-climate feedback caused by global warming.
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