Sources and transport of terrestrial organic matter in Vancouver Island fjords and the Vancouver-Washington Margin: A multiproxy approach using d13Corg, lignin phenols, and the ether lipid BIT index

Walsh, Elizabeth M., Anitra E. Ingalls, Richard G. Keil

Limnol. Oceanogr., 53(3), 2008, 1054-1063 | DOI: 10.4319/lo.2008.53.3.1054

ABSTRACT: The Branched and Isoprenoid Tetraether (BIT) index (a ratio of marine and terrestrial glycerol dialkyl glycerol tetraether [GDGT] membrane lipids) was recently introduced as a proxy for the fraction of fluvially derived organic carbon (OC) buried in marine sediments. We investigate the source and distribution of terrestrial OC in marine sediments in a large spatial data set that encompasses the Washington-Vancouver Island Margin, Vancouver Island fjords, and Puget Sound with the goal of comparing the BIT index to other traditional measures of terrestrial OC (δ13C of OC [δ13Corg] and lignin phenols). δ13Corg values and lignin concentrations indicate that the fjords are a significant trap for undegraded, wood-derived terrestrial material, with surface sediments containing up to 76% terrestrial OC. These proxies also show significant terrestrial OC contributions to margin sediments (up to 54%), with most likely an angiosperm source from the Columbia River. In contrast to δ13Corg values and lignin concentrations, BIT index values indicate extremely low terrestrial carbon throughout the study area (BIT index values range from 0 to 0.28) and are uncorrelated with the other proxies. Though the BIT index did not correlate with other proxies, margin GDGT concentrations varied offshore similarly to other terrestrially derived OC and are well-correlated with other proxies. We suggest that the BIT index is best interpreted as a proxy for soil- or peat-derived OC. The majority of terrestrially derived OC delivered to sediment in this area has a lignin-rich, nonsoil source. The disparity between the BIT index and other proxies implies that the BIT index significantly underestimates terrestrial relative to marine OC input to sediments in areas in which riverine OC input is not soil or peat derived.

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