Knowledge of how carbonates are produced on shelves is needed for working out how these “carbonate factories” generate stratigraphy by providing particles for potential export or local deposition. Production rates can be derived straightforwardly in low-energy environments from one-dimensional analysis (age–depth variations) but rates are less easily derived for high-energy hydrodynamical environments where particles are transported away from their sites of production. This particularly affects knowledge of spatial variations in production rates, needed for working out controlling influences of light, hydrodynamics, and nutrient availability. We show here that, if a non-carbonate component of the sediment, such as terrigenous particles arising from coastal and subaerial erosion, is conserved and thus acts as a tracer, rates of carbonate production can in principle be derived from carbonate content data, if sediment transport fluxes can also be constrained. In the equation developed here, the spatial rate of change of carbonate content is caused by dilution of the terrigenous component by the newly produced carbonate and depends on the sediment transport flux. We investigate this idea using data from Santa Maria Island, Azores, an inactive volcanic island in a temperate environment. Geochemical, X-ray diffraction (XRD), and X-ray fluorescence (XRF) data of surface–sediment grab samples indicate nearly simple mixing trends between two components (volcanic rock and marine carbonate), as needed for our simple dilution-based equation to apply. High-resolution boomer seismic data reveal thicker (> 1 m) deposits in the mid- to outer shelf of the island, which we interpret as having been emplaced during the Holocene. These effectively provide time-averaged depositional fluxes and, assuming conservation of mass, can be used to constrain transport fluxes. The derived equation is used to predict the observed deposit thicknesses into the mid-shelf alongside coincident increasing carbonate percentages. The thicknesses are replicated only if carbonate production rates increase with depth and distance away from the coastline into the mid-shelf, quantifying the variation of production of such a nearshore environment for the first time. We speculate that mollusks dominating the production have a preference for sand that is less frequently or strongly agitated by waves, although nutrient availability from occasional upwelling may also regulate growth to create this trend.

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