Pre-aged soil organic carbon as a major component of the Yellow River suspended load: Regional significance and global relevance

Tao, S., Eglinton, T. I., Montluçon, D. B., Mcintyre, C. and Zhao, M. (2015) Pre-aged soil organic carbon as a major component of the Yellow River suspended load: Regional significance and global relevance. Earth and Planetary Science Letters, 414, pp. 77-86. (doi: 10.1016/j.epsl.2015.01.004)

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Large rivers connect the continents and the oceans, and corresponding material fluxes have a global impact on marine biogeochemistry. The Yellow River transports vast quantities of suspended sediments to the ocean, yet the nature of the particulate organic carbon (POC) carried by this system is not well known. The focus of this study is to characterize the sources, composition and age of suspended POC collected near the terminus of this river system, focusing on the abundance and carbon isotopic composition (13C and 14C) of specific biomarkers. The concentrations of vascular plant wax lipids (long-chain (≥C24) n-alkanes, n-fatty acids) and POC co-varied with total suspended solid (TSS) concentrations, indicating that both were controlled by the overall terrestrial sediment flux. POC exhibited relatively uniform δ13C values (−23.8 to −24.2‰), and old radiocarbon ages (4000–4640 yr). However, different biomarkers exhibited a wide range of 14C ages. Short-chain (C16, C18) fatty acid 14C ages were variable but generally the youngest organic components (from 502 yr to modern), suggesting they reflect recently biosynthesized material. Lignin phenol 14C ages were also variable and relatively young (1070 yr to modern), suggesting rapid export of carbon from terrestrial primary production. In contrast, long-chain plant wax lipids display relatively uniform and significantly older 14C ages (1500–1800 yr), likely reflecting inputs of pre-aged, mineral-associated soil OC from the Yellow River drainage basin. Even-carbon-numbered n-alkanes yielded the oldest 14C ages (up to 26 000 yr), revealing the presence of fossil (petrogenic) OC. Two isotopic mass balance approaches were explored to quantitively apportion different OC sources in Yellow River suspended sediments. Results indicate that the dominant component of POC (53–57%) is substantially pre-aged (1510–1770 yr), and likely sourced from the extensive loess-paleosol deposits outcropping within the drainage basin. Of the remaining POC, between 10 and 31% is fossil in origin (>26 000 yr), resulting from the physical erosion of ancient sedimentary rock and input of fossil fuel residues from anthropogenic activity, and 16–33% is modern carbon derived from terrestrial and aquatic productivity. These findings have implications both regarding the provenance and vintage of organic matter signatures emanating from the Yellow River basin and similar catchments containing extensive paleosol sequences, as well as for the reactivity and fate of this POC upon supply to adjacent marginal seas.

Item Type:Articles
Glasgow Author(s) Enlighten ID:Mcintyre, Dr Cameron
Authors: Tao, S., Eglinton, T. I., Montluçon, D. B., Mcintyre, C., and Zhao, M.
College/School:College of Science and Engineering > Scottish Universities Environmental Research Centre
Journal Name:Earth and Planetary Science Letters
ISSN (Online):1385-013X

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