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Refractory organic matter in coastal salt marshes-effect on C sequestration calculations
Sci Total Environ
The age and ability of salt marshes to accumulate and sequester carbon is often assessed using the carbon isotopic signatures (Delta(14)C and delta(13)C) of sedimentary organic matter. However, transfers of allochthonous refractory carbon (CRF) from the watershed to marshes would not represent new C sequestration. To better understand how refractory carbon (CRF) inputs affect assessments of marsh age and C sequestration, Delta(14)C and delta(13)C of both total organic carbon (TOC), CRF, and non-CRF organic matter fractions were measured in salt marshes from four contrasting systems on the North Atlantic coast. To our knowledge, no salt marsh sediment study has considered refractory or allochthonous carbon in carbon budget calculations or the impact on chronologies. Stable and radiogenic isotope data suggest that while TOC was dominated by autochthonous plant inputs, CRF was dominated by locally recycled or allochthonous C, the delivery of which was controlled by the size and slope of each watershed. Steep-gradient rivers analyzed delivered Delta(14)C-depleted CRF to their estuarine marshes, while the site located in the low-gradient river was associated with larger CRF content. Finally, the marsh isolated from riverine input contained the least fraction of TOC as CRF. Laterally transported CRF caused only a small offset in Delta(14)C in relation to TOC in low-gradient systems (average Delta(14)C offset was -44.4 and -24.2 per thousand at each location). However, the presence of allochthonous Delta(14)C-depleted CRF in sediments of steep-gradient rivers led to large overestimates of the time of organic matter deposition (i.e. apparent age was older than the 'true' time of deposition) (Delta(14)C offset ranged from -170.6 to -528.9 per thousand). Further, reliance on TOC or loss on ignition analyses to calculate C sequestration by marshes might produce overestimates of at least as much as 10 to 20% since neither account for the lateral transport of allochthonous carbon.
Department of Geological Sciences, East Carolina University, Graham Building, Room 101, Greenville, NC 27858-4353, USA. Electronic address: email@example.com
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