Formation and decay of thermogenic organic matter are important processes in the geological carbon cycle, but little is known about the fate of combustion-derived and petrogenic compounds in the ocean. We explored the molecular structure of marinedissolved organic matter (DOM) for thermogenic signatures in different water masses of the Southern Ocean. Ultrahigh-resolution mass spectrometry via the Fourier transform-ion cyclotron resonance technique (FT-ICR-MS) revealed the presence of polyaromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) dissolved in the abyssal ocean. More than 200 different PAHs were discerned, most of themconsisting of seven condensed rings with varying numbers of carboxyl, hydroxyl, and aliphatic functional groups. These unambiguously thermogenic compounds were homogenously distributed in the deep sea, but depleted at the sea surface. Based on the structural information alone, petrogenic and pyrogenic compounds cannot be distinguished. Surface depletion of the PAHs and first estimates for their turnover rate (>1.2 ·10^12 mol C per year) point toward a primarily petrogenic source, possibly deep-seahydrothermal vents, which is thus far speculative because the fluxes of combustion-derived and petrogenic matter to the ocean are not well constrained. We estimate that >2.4% of DOM are thermogenic compounds, and their global inventory in the oceans is >1.4 ·10^15 mol C, significantly impacting global biogeochemical cycles.
Helmholtz Research Programs > MARCOPOLI (2004-2008) > POL5-Autecology of planktonic key species and groups