Manganese-rich brown layers in Arctic Ocean sediments: Composition, formation mechanisms, and diagenetic overprint

Jens.Matthiessen [ at ]


We present inorganic geochemical analyses of pore waters and sediments of two Late Quaternary sediment cores from the western Arctic Ocean (southern Mendeleev Ridge, RV Polarstern Expedition ARK-XXIII/3), focussing on the composition and origin of distinct, brown-colored, Mn-rich sediment layers. Carbonate enrichments occur in association with these layers as peaks in Ca/Al, Mg/Al, Sr/Al and Sr/Mg, suggesting enhanced input of both ice-rafted and biogenic carbonate. For the first time, we show that the Mn-rich layers layers are also consistently enriched in the scavenged trace metals Co, Cu, Mo and Ni. Distinct bioturbation patterns, specifically well-defined brown burrows into the underlying sediments, suggest these metal enrichments formed close to the sediment–water interface. The geochemical signature of these metal- and carbonate-rich layers most probably documents formation under warmer climate conditions with an intensified continental hydrological cycle and only seasonal sea ice cover. Both rivers and sea ice delivered trace metals to the Arctic Ocean, while enhanced seasonal productivity exported reactive organic matter to the sea floor. The coeval deposition of organic matter, Mn (oxyhydr)oxides and trace metals triggered intense diagenetic Mn cycling at the sediment–water interface. These processes resulted in the formation of Mn and trace metal enrichments, and the degradation of labile organic matter. With the onset of cooler conditions, reduced riverine runoff and/or a solid sea ice cover terminated the input of riverine trace metal and fresh organic matter, resulting in deposition of grayish-yellowish, metal-poor sediments. Oxygen depletion of Arctic bottom waters under these cooler conditions is not supported by our data, and did not cause the sedimentary Mn distribution. While the original composition and texture of the brown layers resulted from specific climatic conditions and corresponding diagenetic processes, pore water data show that diagenetic Mn redistribution is still affecting the organic-poor deeper sediments. Given persistent steady state conditions, purely authigenic Mn-rich brown layers may form, while others may be partly or completely dissolved. The degree of diagenetic Mn redistribution largely depends on the depositional environment, the Mn and organic matter availability, and apparently affected the Co/Mo ratios of Mn-rich layers. Thus, brown Arctic layers are not necessarily synchronous features, and should not be correlated across the Arctic Ocean without additional age control.

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DOI 10.1016/j.gca.2011.09.046

Cite as
März, C. , Stratmann, A. , Matthießen, J. , Meinhardt, A. K. , Eckert, S. , Schnetger, B. , Vogt, C. , Stein, R. and Brumsack, H. J. (2011): Manganese-rich brown layers in Arctic Ocean sediments: Composition, formation mechanisms, and diagenetic overprint , Geochimica et Cosmochimica Acta, 75 , pp. 7668-7687 . doi: 10.1016/j.gca.2011.09.046

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