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Organic matter characterization and distribution in sediments of the terminal lobes of the Congo deep-sea fan: Evidence for the direct influence of the Congo River

Abstract : The terminal lobe complex of the Congo River submarine fan sits on the abyssal Atlantic plain, at 5000 m water depth, 760 km offshore from the river mouth estuarine area. While most rivers deliver particulate material to the continental shelf, particulate matter from the Congo River largely bypasses the shelf and is transported by turbidity currents through the Congo submarine canyon system. We determined the quantity and quality of the organic matter reaching the terminal lobe complex at five sites with marked morphological differences that may influence the distribution of organic matter. A suite of bulk geochemical (% OC, δ13Corg, δ15N, C: N), 137Cs and palynofacies analyses were done on cores collected from the terminal lobe area. These results were also compared to the composition of sediments collected upstream at the Malebo Pool (Congo River). Distal lobe complex sediments contain high amounts of terrestrial organic carbon (3–5 wt.%) that is homogeneously distributed in surficial (22 cm) and deeper sediments (580 cm) silty–clay facies. Strongly altered soil-derived organic matter with well-preserved land plant detritus from the Congo River predominates. A terrestrial soil origin for the particulate load was confirmed by the elevated 137Cs activity in lobe sediments. The vertical distribution of the 137Cs signal suggests that there has been a massive arrival of terrestrial sediments since 1963, consistent with a turbiditic origin. From the locations surveyed, we estimate a maximum accumulation of terrestrial organic carbon of ca. 1 kg OC m− 2 y− 1 for the distal lobe. However, transport modifies the organic matter both in terms of quantity and quality. Observed differences were attributed to preferential degradation of nitrogenous matter during diagenesis and to the addition of highly remineralized marine organic matter. Results from our temporal reference site (E) suggest that organic matter may be preserved in turbidite facies for thousands of years. The good preservation state of the accumulated organic matter shows that turbiditic lobe complexes should be considered as a sink for terrestrial organic carbon in the deep ocean.
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Elsa Stetten, François Baudin, Jean-Louis Reyss, Philippe Martinez, Karine Charlier, et al.. Organic matter characterization and distribution in sediments of the terminal lobes of the Congo deep-sea fan: Evidence for the direct influence of the Congo River. Marine Geology, Elsevier, 2015, 369, pp.182-195. ⟨10.1016/j.margeo.2015.08.020⟩. ⟨hal-01195555⟩

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