Organic carbon densities and accumulation rates in surface sediments of the North Sea and Skagerrak

Diesing, Markus; Thorsnes, Terje; Bjarnadóttir, Lilja Rún

Continental shelf sediments are places of both rapid organic carbon turnover and accumulation, while at the same time increasingly subjected to human-induced disturbances. Recent research suggests that shelf sediments might have a role to play as a natural climate solution, e.g. by storing organic carbon if left undisturbed from anthropogenic activity. However, we have an incomplete understanding about the centres of organic carbon accumulation and storage on continental shelves. To better constrain the rate of accumulation and the mass of organic carbon that is stored in sediments, we developed and applied a spatial modelling framework that allows us to estimate those quantities from sparse observations and predictor variables known or suspected to influence the spatial patterns of these parameters. This paper presents spatial distribution patterns of organic carbon densities and accumulation rates in the North Sea and Skagerrak. We found that organic carbon stocks and accumulation rates are highest in the Norwegian Trough, while large parts of the North Sea are characterised by low stocks and zero net accumulation. The total stock of organic carbon that is stored in the upper 0.1 m of sediments amounted to 230.5 inline-formula± 134.5 Tg C, of which approximately 26 % is stored in the Norwegian Trough. Rates of organic carbon accumulation in the Norwegian Trough are comparable with those reported from nearby fjords. We provide baseline datasets that could be used in marine management, e.g. for the establishment of “carbon protection zones”. Additionally, we highlight the complex nature of continental shelves with zones of rapid carbon cycling and accumulation juxtaposed, which will require further detailed and spatially explicit analyses to constrain sedimentary organic carbon stocks and accumulation rates globally.

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Diesing, Markus / Thorsnes, Terje / Bjarnadóttir, Lilja Rún: Organic carbon densities and accumulation rates in surface sediments of the North Sea and Skagerrak. 2021. Copernicus Publications.

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