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Clay mineral continental amplifier for marine carbon sequestration in a greenhouse ocean

Lookup NU author(s): Professor Martin Kennedy, Professor Thomas Wagner


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The majority of carbon sequestration at the Earth’s surface occurs in marine continental margin settings within fine-grained sediments whose mineral properties are a function of continental climatic conditions. We report very high mineral surface area (MSA) values of 300 and 570 m2 g in Late Cretaceous black shales from Ocean Drilling Program site 959 of the Deep Ivorian Basin that vary on subcentennial time scales corresponding with abrupt increases from approximately 3 to approximately 18% total organic carbon (TOC). The observed MSA changes with TOC across multiple scales of variability and on a sample-by-sample basis (centimeter scale), provides a rigorous test of a hypothesized influence on organic carbon burial by detrital clay mineral controlled MSA. Changes in TOC also correspond with geochemical and sedimentological evidence for water column anoxia. Bioturbated intervals show a lower organic carbon loading on mineral surface area of 0.1 mg-OC m-2 when compared to 0.4 mg-OC m-2 for laminated and sulfidic sediments. Although either anoxia or mineral surface protection may be capable of producing TOC of < 5%, when brought together they produced the very high TOC (10–18%) apparent in these sediments. This nonlinear response in carbon burial resulted from minor precession-driven changes of continental climate influencing clay mineral properties and runoff from the African continent. This study identifies a previously unrecognized land–sea connection among continental weathering, clay mineral production, and anoxia and a nonlinear effect on marine carbon sequestration during the Coniacian-Santonian Oceanic Anoxic Event 3 in the tropical eastern Atlantic.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Kennedy M, Wagner T

Publication type: Article

Publication status: Published

Journal: Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences

Year: 2011

Volume: 108

Issue: 24

Pages: 9776-9781

Print publication date: 16/05/2011

ISSN (print): 0027-8424

ISSN (electronic): 1091-6490

Publisher: National Academy of Sciences


DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1018670108


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Funder referenceFunder name
Royal Society