Pulsed, Cross‐Shelf Export of Terrigenous Dissolved Organic Carbon to the Gulf of Mexico


Ronald Benner:

Document Type



The mineralization of terrigenous dissolved organic carbon (tDOC) discharged by rivers can impact nutrient and trace metal cycling, biological productivity, net ecosystem metabolism, and air-sea CO2 exchange in ocean margins. However, the extreme heterogeneity of river-influenced ocean margins represents a major challenge for quantitative assessments of tDOC transformations and thereby obscures the role of tDOC in biogeochemical cycles. Here a lignin-based optical proxy for tDOC and a shelf-wide mass balance approach were used to quantitatively assess the fate of tDOC discharged from the Mississippi-Atchafalaya River System (M-ARS) to the Louisiana shelf. The mass balance revealed that ~40% of the tDOC discharged by the M-ARS during March 2009–2010 was mineralized to CO2 on the Louisiana shelf, with two thirds of the mineralization taking place in the mixed layer. A strong seasonality in tDOC mineralization was observed, with mineralization rates severalfold higher during summer than during winter. Independent assessments of specificmineralization processes indicated biomineralization accounted for ~94%of the tDOCmineralization on an annual basis and suggest that photochemical transformations of tDOC enhanced biomineralization by ~50% in themixed layer. Direct photomineralization accounted for a relatively small fraction (~6%) of the tDOC mineralization on an annual basis. This quantitative assessment directly confirms that ocean margins are major sinks of the tDOC discharged by rivers and indicates that tDOC mineralization rates in the shelf mixed layer are sufficiently large to influence whether the Louisiana shelf is a net sink or source of atmospheric CO2.

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APA Citation

Fichot, C., Lohrenz, S., & Benner, R. (2014). Pulsed, cross‐shelf export of terrigenous dissolved organic carbon to the Gulf of Mexico. Journal of Geophysical Research: Oceans, 119(2), 1176–1194.