Carbon Deposition and Burial in Estuarine Sediments of the Contiguous United States

J. A. Hutchings, T. S. Bianchi, R. G. Najjar, M. Herrmann, W. M. Kemp, A. L. Hinson, R. A. Feagin

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9 Scopus citations


Estuaries represent the primary linkage between the terrestrial and marine carbon cycles, and estuarine processing of riverine and coastal carbon plays a disproportionately large role in the global carbon cycle relative to the small areal extent of the estuarine environments. However, knowledge of the rate of organic carbon deposition and burial in estuarine sediments is lacking at regional scales. Data on surficial total organic carbon, linear sedimentation, and bulk density of estuarine sediments were compiled and categorized via a cluster analysis in order to estimate carbon deposition within the contiguous United States (CONUS). The cluster analysis broadly grouped estuaries by geography, but exceptions to geographic clustering highlighted differences within regions. A transfer function from deposition to burial based on linear sedimentation rate was used to estimate burial efficiency, and thus the rate of carbon burial within each cluster. We estimate organic carbon deposition rates within CONUS estuarine sediments to be 161 [121–217, 95% confidence] g C/m2/yr with a burial efficiency estimated at 38 [34–42, 95% confidence] %, which yields a long-term burial rate of 64 [44–97, 95% confidence] g C/m2/yr. Spatially integrated organic deposition and burial rates are 11.3 [8.5–15.2, 95% confidence] and 4.5 [3.1–6.8, 95% confidence] Tg C/yr, respectively. Our findings allow a more thorough understanding of coastal carbon cycling, which is critical for both management purposes as well as for the assessment of the role of estuaries in past and future climate change.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere2019GB006376
JournalGlobal Biogeochemical Cycles
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 1 2020

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Global and Planetary Change
  • Environmental Chemistry
  • General Environmental Science
  • Atmospheric Science


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