Diagenetic control of nitrogen isotope ratios in Holocene sapropels and recent sediments from the Eastern Mediterranean Sea
Abstract. The enhanced accumulation of organic matter in Eastern Mediterranean sapropels and their unusually low δ15N values have been attributed to either enhanced nutrient availability which led to elevated primary production and carbon sequestration or to enhanced organic matter preservation under anoxic conditions. In order to evaluate these two hypothesis we have determined Ba/Al ratios, amino acid composition, N and organic C concentrations and δ15N in sinking particles, surface sediments, eight spatially distributed core records of the youngest sapropel S1 (10–6 ka) and older sapropels (S5, S6) from two locations. These data suggest that (i) temporal and spatial variations in δ15N of sedimentary N are driven by different degrees of diagenesis at different sites rather than by changes in N-sources or primary productivity and (ii) present day TOC export production would suffice to create a sapropel like S1 under conditions of deep-water anoxia. This implies that both enhanced TOC accumulation and δ15N depletion in sapropels were due to the absence of oxygen in deep waters. Thus preservation plays a major role for the accumulation of organic-rich sediments casting doubt on the need of enhanced primary production for sapropel formation.