Seafloor sediment characterization to improve estimate of organic carbon standing stocks in continental shelves
Abstract. Continental shelf sediments contain some of the largest stocks of organic carbon (OC) on Earth and play a vital role in influencing the global carbon cycle. Quantifying how much OC is stored in shelf sediments and determining its residence time is key to assessing how human activities can accelerate the process of OC remineralization into carbon dioxide. Spatial variations in terrestrial carbon stocks are well studied and mapped at high resolution, but our knowledge of the distribution of marine OC in different seafloor settings is still very limited, particularly in the highly dynamic and spatially variable shelf environments. The lack of knowledge reduces our ability to understand and predict how much and for how long oceans sequester CO2. In this study, we use high-resolution multibeam echosounder (MBES) data from the Eastern Shore Islands offshore Nova Scotia (Canada), combined with OC measurements from discrete samples, to assess the distribution of OC content in seafloor sediments. We derive three different spatial estimates of organic carbon: i) assuming a homogenous seafloor the carbon stock estimates were scaled to the entire study region; ii) using a high-resolution substrate map, the estimates were scaled to the areas of soft substrate only, and, finally, iii) using Empirical Bayesian Regression Kriging (EBRK) regression prediction within the area of soft substrate, carbon stock estimates in areas of soft substrate were refined to account for spatial variability in the concentration of OC. These three distinct spatial models yielded dramatically different estimates of average standing stock of OC in our study area, 1275, 259 and 203 Mt of OC respectively. Our study demonstrates that high-resolution mapping is critically important for improved estimates of OC stocks on continental shelves, and to the identification of carbon hotspots that need to be considered in seabed management and climate mitigation strategies.
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