The effects of bathymetry on the long-term carbon cycle and CCD

Matthew Bogumil, Tushar Mittal, Carolina Lithgow-Bertelloni

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The shape of the ocean floor (bathymetry) and the overlaying sediments provide the largest carbon sink throughout Earth’s history, supporting ~one to two orders of magnitude more carbon storage than the oceans and atmosphere combined. While accumulation and erosion of these sediments are bathymetry dependent (e.g., due to pressure, temperature, salinity, ion concentration, and available productivity), no systemic study has quantified how global and basin scale bathymetry, controlled by the evolution of tectonics and mantle convection, affects the long-term carbon cycle. We reconstruct bathymetry spanning the last 80 Myr to describe steady-state changes in ocean chemistry within the Earth system model LOSCAR. We find that both bathymetry reconstructions and representative synthetic tests show that ocean alkalinity, calcite saturation state, and the carbonate compensation depth (CCD) are strongly dependent on changes in shallow bathymetry (ocean floor ≤600 m) and on the distribution of the deep marine regions (>1,000 m). Limiting Cenozoic evolution to bathymetry alone leads to predicted CCD variations spanning 500 m, 33 to 50% of the total observed variations in the paleoproxy records. Our results suggest that neglecting bathymetric changes leads to significant misattribution to uncertain carbon cycle parameters (e.g., atmospheric CO2 and water column temperature) and processes (e.g., biological pump efficiency and silicate-carbonate riverine flux). To illustrate this point, we use our updated bathymetry for an Early Paleogene C cycle case study. We obtain carbonate riverine flux estimates that suggest a reversal of the weathering trend with respect to present-day, contrasting with previous studies, but consistent with proxy records and tectonic reconstructions.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere2400232121
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number21
StatePublished - 2024

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General

Cite this