Organic Carbon Burial With Reactive Iron Across Global Environments

Jack Longman*, Johan C. Faust, Casey Bryce, William B. Homoky, Christian März

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

9 Citations (Scopus)
21 Downloads (Pure)


Preservation of organic carbon (OC) in marine and terrestrial deposits is enhanced by bonding with reactive iron (FeR). Association of OC with FeR (OC-FeR) provides physical protection and hinders microbiological degradation. Roughly 20% of all OC stored in unconsolidated marine sediments and 40% of all OC present in Quaternary terrestrial deposits is preserved as OC-FeR, but this value varies from 10% to 80% across global depositional environments. Here, we provide a new assessment of global OC-FeR burial rates in both marine and terrestrial environments, using published estimates of OC associated with FeR, carbon burial, and probabilistic modeling. We estimate the marine OC-FeR sink between 31 and 70 Mt C yr−1 (average 52 Mt C yr−1), and the terrestrial OC-FeR sink at between 146 and 917 Mt C yr−1 (average 446 Mt C yr−1). In marine environments, continental shelves (average 17 Mt C yr−1) and deltaic/estuarine environments (average 11 Mg C yr−1) are the primary settings of OC-FeR burial. On land, croplands (279 Mt C yr−1) and grasslands (121 Mt C yr−1) dominate the OC-FeR burial budget. Changes in the Earth system through geological time impact the OC-FeR pools, particularly in marine settings. For example, periods of intense explosive volcanism may lead to increased net OC-FeR burial in marine sediments. Our work highlights the importance of OC-FeR in marine carbon burial and demonstrates how OC-FeR burial rates may be an order of magnitude greater in terrestrial environments, but here OC-FeR stocks are most sensitive to the anthropogenic impacts of climatic change.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere2022GB007447
Number of pages18
JournalGlobal Biogeochemical Cycles
Issue number11
Early online date23 Nov 2022
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2022
Externally publishedYes


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