Coronavirus Information for the UC San Diego Community

Our leaders are working closely with federal and state officials to ensure your ongoing safety at the university. Stay up to date with the latest developments. Learn more.

Provenances, distribution, and accumulation of organic matter in the southern Mariana Trench rim and slope: Implication for carbon cycle and burial in hadal trenches

Locations of the study area and sampling sites.
TitleProvenances, distribution, and accumulation of organic matter in the southern Mariana Trench rim and slope: Implication for carbon cycle and burial in hadal trenches
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2017
AuthorsLuo M, Gieskes J, Chen L, Shi X, Chen D
JournalMarine Geology
Date Published2017/04
ISBN Number0025-3227
KeywordsHadal trench; mariana trench; Organic matter accumulation; origin; Total organic carbon

It is generally accepted that organic matter content and accumulation rate at the seafloor attenuate with increasing water depth. However, hadal trenches, which represent the deepest portion of the hydrosphere on Earth, do not abide by this universal rule. It has been speculated that hadal trenches would serve as organic matter depocenters, where bacteria-mediated organic matter degradation intensifies. Here we examine the contents of total organic carbon (TOC) and total nitrogen (TN), as well as the δ13C values of TOC in three gravity cores, two box cores, and three grab samples with water depth from 4900 to 7118 m, in order to reveal the provenances of organic matter, spatial distribution and accumulation rates of particulate organic carbon (POC) in the southern Mariana Trench rim and slope. Although the deepest area was not sampled, trench rim and slope is also of importance in terms of transportation and accumulation processes of organic matter. A vast majority of the sediment samples have bulk TOC/TN molar ratios and δ13C values of TOC ranging from 4.2 to 11 and from − 21.8 to − 18.9‰, respectively, implying that the organic matter was primarily sourced from marine algae. Two exceptions have been found at 101 cm and 201 cm depths of core GC05 with a possible input of terrestrial material suggested by an abrupt increase in TOC contents and TOC/TN molar ratios accompanied by marked decreases in δ13C values of TOC. Moreover, TOC contents in surface sediments basically increased with water depth. Based on the published excess 210Pb data and by assuming a simplified one-dimensional sediment loading despite of frequent occurrences of mass wasting transports in hadal trenches, the sedimentation rate in the southern Challenger Deep (6037 m) was estimated to be 0.02 cm yr− 1. This much higher sedimentation rate compared to the globally averaged values in deep ocean sediments coupled with the trend of increasing in TOC contents with water depth may serve as evidence for the lateral transport of sediment particles induced by the funnel-like topography and localized current dynamics within the trench. The average POC accumulation rate within the southern Challenger Deep roughly amounts to 1.5 × 10− 5 g cm− 2 yr− 1, equivalent to about a seventh of the globally averaged POC accumulation rate in deep-ocean seafloor. To our knowledge, POC accumulation in hadal trenches has been quantified for the first time, and we highlight that organic matter degradation in deep hadal trenches should not be neglected and may represent a significant component of the global carbon cycle.

Short TitleMar. Geol.

This study aims to understand the sources, distribution, and accumulation rates of organic matter in the southern Mariana Trench rim and slope. Through the analysis of contents of TOC and TN, and δ13C values of TOC, along with the simulation of the published 210Pbxs profile using 1D reaction-transport model, we conclude that (1) the organic matter mainly stems from marine phytoplankton except for sediments at 101 cm and 201 cm depths of GC05 with discernable terrestrial organic matter inputs, (2) the apparent increase in TOC contents in surface sediments with water depth together with elevated sedimentation rate were probably due to the distinctive topography and current dynamics within the trench, and (3) the estimated average POC accumulation rate within the southern Mariana Trench approximates to 1.5 × 10− 5 g cm− 2 yr− 1.

Consequently, we put forward that hadal trenches are conductive to trap organic matter and that organic matter degradation in hadal trenches should be considered as an integral part of global carbon cycle.

Student Publication: