Sources, distributions, and early diagenesis of sedimentary organic matter in the Pearl River region of the South China Sea Academic Article uri icon


  • Suspended particles from the Pearl River, and surface sediments from the northern South China Sea (NSCS) were analyzed for elemental composition (C, N), stable carbon isotopic composition (13C), lignin phenols, and total hydrolyzable amino acids (THAA). Organic matter (OM) in riverine particles was depleted in 13C (avg. -28.3) and was derived primarily from plankton and soils, with minor contributions from C3 plant material. The 13C of sedimentary OM became increasingly enriched in 13C (avg. -21.3) from the inner shelf to the slope of the NSCS, and C/N ratios decreased from the inner shelf to the slope, indicating increasing contributions of marine organic carbon (OC). Lignin phenol yields in sedimentary OM decreased from the inner shelf to the slope, indicating declining contributions of terrestrial OC. Lignin phenol compositions in riverine particles and marine sediments reflected a predominately angiosperm source. Degradation indices (DI) of sedimentary amino acids indicated increasing diagenetic alteration of marine OM with water depth and distance offshore. Increasing acid:aldehyde ratios (Ad/Al) in lignin phenols and 3,5-dihydroxybenzoic acid:vanillyl phenols (3,5-BD/V) ratios also indicated a seaward increase in the diagenetic state of terrestrial OM, presumably due to hydrodynamic sorting and biogeochemical processing. A three end-member mixing model based on lignin phenol yields and stable C isotopic compositions was used to distinguish sources of OM. Marine OM accounted for an increasing fraction (62-82%) of sedimentary OC from the inner shelf to the slope, whereas soil-derived OM accounted for a decreasing fraction (39-18%) of sedimentary OC from inner shelf to the slope. The contribution of C3 plant OM was negligible. The significant contributions of terrestrial OM in NSCS sediments are ascribed to the relatively refractory nature of soil OM and the bioavailable nature of marine OM. 2013 Elsevier B.V.

published proceedings


author list (cited authors)

  • Zhang, Y., Kaiser, K., Li, L. i., Zhang, D., Ran, Y., & Benner, R.

citation count

  • 59

complete list of authors

  • Zhang, Yulong||Kaiser, Karl||Li, Li||Zhang, Dainan||Ran, Yong||Benner, Ronald

publication date

  • January 2014