Multiple layers of sapropels occur widely in the sedimentary record of the Mediterranean Sea and record repetitions of paleoclimatic conditions that favored increased production and preservation of marine organic matter. A combination of hydrogen and carbon isotope analyses of Pleistocene sapropels from the Tyrrhenian Sea reveals new aspects of the factors leading to their deposition. Organic matter dD values that are significantly more negative in sapropels than in adjacent marls indicate a combination of dilution of surface waters by meteoric waters and increased burial of lipid-rich organic matter during periods of sapropel deposition. Organic δ13C values in sapropels that are less negative than those in marls suggest periods of markedly elevated marine biological production. The opposite but concordant excursions of these two isotopic parameters imply that the sapropel layers formed from increased export of marine organic matter from the photic zone to the sea floor during periods of greater fluvial delivery of continental nutrients to the Mediterranean Sea. Furthermore, the isotopic evidence indicates that periods of wetter climate were widespread in southern Europe at the same times as in northern Africa.

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