Articles | Volume 12, issue 12
Research article
18 Jun 2015
Research article |  | 18 Jun 2015

GDGT distributions on the East Siberian Arctic Shelf: implications for organic carbon export, burial and degradation

R. B. Sparkes, A. Doğrul Selver, J. Bischoff, H. M. Talbot, Ö. Gustafsson, I. P. Semiletov, O. V. Dudarev, and B. E. van Dongen

Abstract. Siberian permafrost contains a globally significant pool of organic carbon (OC) that is vulnerable to enhanced warming and subsequent release into the contemporary carbon cycle. OC release by both fluvial and coastal erosion has been reported in the region, but the behaviour of this material in the Arctic Ocean is insufficiently understood. The balance between OC deposition and degradation on the East Siberian Arctic Shelf (ESAS) influences the climate–carbon cycle feedback in this area. In this study we couple measurements of glycerol dialkyl glycerol tetraethers (GDGTs) with bulk geochemical observations to improve knowledge of the sources of OC to the ESAS, the behaviour of specific biomarkers on the shelf and the balance between delivery and removal of different carbon pools. Branched GDGT (brGDGT) concentrations were highest close to river mouths, yet low in "ice complex" permafrost deposits, supporting recent observations that brGDGTs are mostly delivered by fluvial erosion, and may be a tracer for this in complex sedimentary environments. BrGDGT concentrations and the branched and isoprenoidal tetraether (BIT) index reduced quickly offshore, demonstrating a rapid reduction in river influence. Stable carbon isotope ratios changed at a different rate to the BIT index, suggesting not only that OC on the shelf is sourced from fluvial erosion but also that erosion of coastal sediments delivers substantial quantities of OC to the Arctic Ocean. A model of OC export from fluvial, coastal and marine sources is able to recreate the biomarker and bulk observations and provide estimates for the influence of fluvial and coastal OC across the whole shelf. The model shows that coastal erosion delivers 43 % of the OC and 87 % of the mineral sediment to the ESAS, but that rivers deliver 72 % of brGDGTs, indicating that brGDGTs can be used as a proxy for river-derived sediment.

Short summary
Siberian permafrost contains large amounts of organic carbon that may be released by climate warming. We collected and analysed samples from the East Siberian Sea, using GDGT biomarkers to trace the sourcing and deposition of organic carbon across the shelf. We show that branched GDGTs may be used to trace river erosion. Results from modelling show that organic carbon on the shelf is a complex process involving river-derived and coastal-derived material as well as marine carbon production.
Final-revised paper