Articles | Volume 7, issue 3
31 Mar 2010
 | 31 Mar 2010

Temporal variability of carbon recycling in coastal sediments influenced by rivers: assessing the impact of flood inputs in the Rhône River prodelta

C. Cathalot, C. Rabouille, L. Pastor, B. Deflandre, E. Viollier, R. Buscail, A. Grémare, C. Treignier, and A. Pruski

Abstract. River deltas are particularly important in the marine carbon cycle as they represent the transition between terrestrial and marine carbon: linked to major burial zones, they are reprocessing zones where large carbon fluxes can be mineralized. In order to estimate this mineralization, sediment oxygen uptake rates were measured in continental shelf sediments and river prodelta over different seasons near the outlet of the Rhône River in the Mediterranean Sea. On a selected set of 10 stations in the river prodelta and nearby continental shelf, in situ diffusive oxygen uptake (DOU) and laboratory total oxygen uptake (TOU) measurements were performed in early spring and summer 2007 and late spring and winter 2008. In and ex situ DOU did not show any significant differences except for shallowest organic rich stations. Sediment DOU rates show highest values concentrated close to the river mouth (approx. 20 mmol O2 m−2 d−1) and decrease offshore to values around 4.5 mmol O2 m−2 d−1 with lowest gradients in a south west direction linked to the preferential transport of the finest riverine material. Core incubation TOU showed the same spatial pattern with an averaged TOU/DOU ratio of 1.2±0.4. Temporal variations of sediment DOU over different sampling periods, spring summer and late fall, were limited and benthic mineralization rates presented a stable spatial pattern.

A flood of the Rhône River occurred in June 2008 and delivered up to 30 cm of new soft muddy deposit. Immediately after this flood, sediment DOU rates close to the river mouth dropped from around 15–20 mmol O2 m−2 d−1 to values close to 10 mmol O2 m−2 d−1, in response to the deposition near the river outlet of low reactivity organic matter associated to fine material. Six months later, the oxygen distribution had relaxed back to its initial stage: the initial spatial distribution was found again underlining the active microbial degradation rates involved and the role of further deposits. These results highlight the immediate response of the sediment oxygen system to flood deposit and the rapid relaxation of this system towards its initial state (6 months or less) potentially linked to further deposits of reactive material.

Final-revised paper