Quantifying Degradative Loss of Terrigenous Organic Carbon in Surface Sediments Across the Laptev and East Siberian Sea

Lisa Bröder*, August Andersson, Tommaso Tesi, Igor Semiletov, Örjan Gustafsson

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to JournalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Ongoing permafrost thaw in the Arctic may remobilize large amounts of old organic matter. Upon transport to the Siberian shelf seas, this material may be degraded and released to the atmosphere, exported off-shelf, or buried in the sediments. While our understanding of the fate of permafrost-derived organic matter in shelf waters is improving, poor constraints remain regarding degradation in sediments. Here we use an extensive data set of organic carbon concentrations and isotopes (n = 109) to inventory terrigenous organic carbon (terrOC) in surficial sediments of the Laptev and East Siberian Seas (LS + ESS). Of these ~2.7 Tg terrOC about 55% appear resistant to degradation on a millennial timescale. A first-order degradation rate constant of 1.5 kyr −1 is derived by combining a previously established relationship between water depth and cross-shelf sediment-terrOC transport time with mineral-associated terrOC loadings. This yields a terrOC degradation flux of ~1.7 Gg/year from surficial sediments during cross-shelf transport, which is orders of magnitude lower than earlier estimates for degradation fluxes of dissolved and particulate terrOC in the water column of the LS + ESS. The difference is mainly due to the low degradation rate constant of sedimentary terrOC, likely caused by a combination of factors: (i) the lower availability of oxygen in the sediments compared to fully oxygenated waters, (ii) the stabilizing role of terrOC-mineral associations, and (iii) the higher proportion of material that is intrinsically recalcitrant due to its chemical/molecular structure in sediments. Sequestration of permafrost-released terrOC in shelf sediments may thereby attenuate the otherwise expected permafrost carbon-climate feedback.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)85-99
Number of pages15
JournalGlobal Biogeochemical Cycles
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2019


  • Arctic shelves
  • carbon fluxes
  • degradation
  • marine sediments
  • permafrost


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