New insights into large-scale trends of apparent organic matter reactivity in marine sediments and patterns of benthic carbon transformation

Felipe Sales de Freitas*, Philip A Pika, Sabine Kasten, Bo Barker Jorgensen, Jens Rassmann, Christophe Rabouille, Shaun Thomas, Henrik Sass, Rich D Pancost, Sandra Arndt

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

19 Citations (Scopus)
46 Downloads (Pure)


Constraining the mechanisms controlling organic matter (OM) reactivity and, thus, degradation, preservation and burial in marine sediments across spatial and temporal scales is key to understanding carbon cycling in the past, present, and future. However, we still lack a detailed quantitative understanding of what controls OM reactivity in marine sediments and, consequently, a general framework that would allow model parametrization in data poor areas. To fill this gap, we quantify apparent OM reactivity (i.e., OM degradation rate constants) by extracting reactive continuum model (RCM) parameters (a and v, which define the shape and scale of OM reactivity profiles, respectively) from observed benthic organic carbon and sulfate dynamics across 14 contrasting depositional settings distributed over five distinct benthic provinces. We further complement the newly derived parameter set with a compilation of 37 previously published RCM a and v estimates to explore large-scale trends in OM reactivity. Our analysis shows that the large-scale variability in apparent OM reactivity is largely driven by differences in parameter a (10−3–107) with a high frequency of values in the range 100–104 years. In contrast, and in broad agreement with previous findings, inversely determined v-values fall within a narrow range (0.1–0.2). Results also show that the variability in parameter a and, thus, in apparent OM reactivity is a function of the whole depositional environment, rather than traditionally proposed, single environmental controls (e.g., water depth, sedimentation rate, OM fluxes). Thus, we caution against the simplifying use of a single environmental control for predicting apparent OM reactivity beyond a specific local environmental context (i.e., well defined geographic scale). Additionally, model results indicate that, while OM fluxes exert a dominant control on depth-integrated OM degradation rates across most depositional environments, apparent OM reactivity becomes a dominant control in depositional environments that receive exceptionally reactive OM. Furthermore, model results show that apparent OM reactivity exerts a key control on the relative significance of OM degradation pathways, the redox zonation of the sediment, and rates of anaerobic oxidation of methane. In summary, our large-scale assessment i) further supports the notion of apparent OM reactivity as a dynamic ecosystem property; ii) consolidates the distributions of RCM parameters; and iii) provides quantitative constraints on how OM reactivity governs benthic biogeochemical cycling and exchange. Therefore, it provides important global constraints on the most plausible range of RCM parameters a and v and largely alleviates the difficulty of determining OM reactivity in RCM by constraining it to only one variable, i.e., the parameter a. It thus represents an important advance for model parameterization in data-poor areas.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)4651-4679
Number of pages29
Issue number15
Publication statusPublished - 13 Aug 2021

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Financial support. This research has been supported by the Coor-

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021 The Author(s).


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