Carbon burial in deep-sea sediment and implications for oceanic inventories of carbon and alkalinity over the last glacial cycle

Olivier Cartapanis, Eric D. Galbraith, Daniele Bianchi, Samuel L. Jaccard

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearch

18 Citations (Scopus)


© Author(s) 2018. Although it has long been assumed that the glacial-interglacial cycles of atmospheric CO2 occurred due to increased storage of CO2 in the ocean, with no change in the size of the active carbon inventory, there are signs that the geological CO2 supply rate to the active pool varied significantly. The resulting changes of the carbon inventory cannot be assessed without constraining the rate of carbon removal from the system, which largely occurs in marine sediments. The oceanic supply of alkalinity is also removed by the burial of calcium carbonate in marine sediments, which plays a major role in air-sea partitioning of the active carbon inventory. Here, we present the first global reconstruction of carbon and alkalinity burial in deep-sea sediments over the last glacial cycle. Although subject to large uncertainties, the reconstruction provides a first-order constraint on the effects of changes in deep-sea burial fluxes on global carbon and alkalinity inventories over the last glacial cycle. The results suggest that reduced burial of carbonate in the Atlantic Ocean was not entirely compensated by the increased burial in the Pacific basin during the last glacial period, which would have caused a gradual buildup of alkalinity in the ocean. We also consider the magnitude of possible changes in the larger but poorly constrained rates of burial on continental shelves, and show that these could have been significantly larger than the deep-sea burial changes. The burial-driven inventory variations are sufficiently large to have significantly altered the 13C of the ocean-atmosphere carbon and changed the average dissolved inorganic carbon (DIC) and alkalinity concentrations of the ocean by more than 100μM, confirming that carbon burial fluxes were a dynamic, interactive component of the glacial cycles that significantly modified the size of the active carbon pool. Our results also suggest that geological sources and sinks were significantly unbalanced during the late Holocene, leading to a slow net removal flux on the order of 0.1PgCyrg'1 prior to the rapid input of carbon during the industrial period.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1819-1850
JournalClimate of the Past
Publication statusPublished - 28 Nov 2018


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