Organic matter accumulation and degradation in subsurface coastal sediments: a model-based comparison of rapid sedimentation and aquifer transport
Abstract. The redox succession in shallow marine sediments generally exhibits a predictable pattern. Pore water profiles from a back barrier tidal flat in the German Wadden Sea depart from the expected redox zoning. Instead, a sulfate minimum zone associated with a sulfate-methane-sulfate double interface and a distinct ammonium peak at 1.5 m below sea floor (mbsf) is displayed. Such evidence for significant degradation of organic matter (OM) in subsurface layers is challenging our understanding of tidal flat biogeochemistry as little is known about processes that relocate reactive OM into layers far distant from the sediment-water interface. The objectives of our model study were to identify possible mechanisms for the rapid transport of organic matter to subsurface layers that cause the reversed redox succession and to constrain several important biogeochemical control parameters. We compared two scenarios for OM transfer: rapid sedimentation and burial of OM as well as lateral advection of suspended POM. Using a diagenetic model, uncertain process parameters, in particular those connected to OM degradation and (vertical or lateral) transport, are systematically calibrated using field data.
We found that both scenarios, advection and sedimentation, had solutions consistent with the observed pore water profiles. For this specific site, however, advective transport of particulate material had to be rejected since the reconstructed boundary conditions were rather improbable. In the alternative deposition set-up, model simulations suggested the deposition of the source OM about 60 yrs before cores were taken. A mean sedimentation rate of approximately 2 cm yr−1 indicates substantial changes in near coast tidal flat morphology, since sea level rise is at a much lower pace. High sedimentation rates most probably reflect the progradation of flats within the study area. These or similar morphodynamic features also occur in other coastal areas so that inverted redox succession by horizontal or vertical transport may be more common than previously thought. Consequently, regional values for OM remineralization rates may be higher than predicted from surface biogeochemistry.