Abstract

In this study we demonstrate the relevance of lateral particle transport in nepheloid layers for organic carbon (OC) accumulation and burial across high-productive continental margins. We present geochemical data from surface sediments and suspended particles in the bottom nepheloid layer (BNL) from the most productive coastal upwelling area of the modern ocean, the Benguela upwelling system offshore southwest Africa. Interpretation of depositional patterns and comparison of downslope trends in OC content, organic matter composition, and 14C age between suspended particles and surface sediments indicate that lateral particle transport is the primary mechanism controlling supply and burial of OC. We propose that effective seaward particle transport primarily along the BNL is a key process that promotes and maintains local high sedimentation rates, ultimately causing high preservation of OC in a depocenter on the upper slope offshore Namibia. As lateral transport efficiently displaces areas of enhanced OC burial from maximum production at highly productive continental margins, vertical particle flux models do not sufficiently explain the relationship between primary production and shallow-marine OC burial. On geologic time scales, the widest distribution and strongest intensity of lateral particle transport is expected during periods of rapid sea-level change. At times in the geologic past, widespread downslope lateral transport of OC thus may have been a primary driver of enhanced OC burial at deeper continental slopes and abyssal basins.

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