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Free Content The kinetics of organic matter mineralization in anoxic marine sediments

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The kinetics of sulfate reduction and inorganic nutrient production (ΣCO2, ammonium, and phosphate) were examined in the sediments at five sites in the southern Chesapeake Bay, using long term (> 200 d) sediment decomposition experiments. Average first order rate constants for these processes (at 25°C) decreased from 8.2 to 3.7 yr–1 in the surface sediments (0–2 cm), to 2.1 to 0.2 yr–1 at 12–14 cm. The C/N and C/P ratios of the organic matter undergoing decomposition also increased with depth at these sites. Taken together, these results indicate that the reactivity of the organic matter undergoing mineralization decreases with depth in these sediments.

A model based on the multiple-G model for organic matter decomposition (hereafter referred to as the mixture model) was developed to examine the observed kinetics of all of these processes. As in the multiple-G model, the mixture model is based on the mineralization of organic matter in sediments occurring from distinct fractions of organic matter with differing reactivities. However here, differences in reactivity are indicated by differences in both the intrinsic rate constants for decomposition as well as the C/N or C/P ratios of the organic matter in the fractions. The mixture model was useful in interpreting the results of these experiments, and provided explanations for differences in the reactivity of organic matter in the surface sediments at these sites. It also appeared to provide information on the nature of the organic matter undergoing remineralization in these sediments, based on the predicted C/N or C/P ratios of these apparent fractions. The data from this study was also examined using the recently presented power model of Middelburg (1989). This analysis indicated the importance of pre-depositional decomposition in affecting the reactivity of sedimentary organic matter.

While all of these models provided insights into organic matter remineralization in marine sediments, they also all had mixed successes in describing (in a unified fashion) sulfate reduction and inorganic nutrient production in these southern Chesapeake Bay sediments. This observation indicates that care must be taken in interpreting information (e.g., rate constants, elemental ratios or apparent initial ages of the sedimentary organic matter) on organic matter in sediments, based on model derived parameters such as those that have been presented here. The ability to independently verify these model derived parameters of the sedimentary organic matter undergoing mineralization will likely be important in further refining these models and improving their usefulness in describing (and predicting) the factors controlling organic matter mineralization in marine sediments.

Document Type: Research Article


Publication date: November 1, 1991

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  • The Journal of Marine Research publishes peer-reviewed research articles covering a broad array of topics in physical, biological and chemical oceanography. Articles that deal with processes, as well as those that report significant observations, are welcome. In the area of biology, studies involving coupling between ecological and physical processes are preferred over those that report systematics. Authors benefit from thorough reviews of their manuscripts, where an attempt is made to maximize clarity. The time between submission and publication is kept to a minimum; there is no page charge.
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