Origin, transport and deposition of leaf-wax biomarkers in the Amazon Basin and the adjacent Atlantic

Gesine.Mollenhauer [ at ] awi.de


Paleoenvironmental studies based on terrigenous biomarker proxies from sediment cores collected close to the mouth of large river systems rely on a proper understanding of the processes controlling origin, transport and deposition of biomarkers.Here, we contribute to the understanding of these processes by analyzing long-chain n-alkanes from the Amazon River system. We use the dD composition of long-chain n-alkanes from river bed sediments from the Amazon River and its major tributaries, as well as marine core-top samples collected off northeastern South America as tracers for different source areas. The d13C composition of the same compounds is used to differentiate between long-chain n-alkanes from modern forest vegetation and petrogenic organic matter. Our d13C results show depleted d13C values (-33 to -36‰) in most samples, indicating a modern forest source for most of the samples. Enriched values (-31 to -33‰) are only found in a few samples poor in organic carbon indicating minor contributions from a fossil petrogenic source. Long-chain n-alkane dD analyses show more depleted values for the western tributaries, the Madeira and Solimões Rivers (-152 to -168‰), while n-alkanes from the lowland tributaries, the Negro, Xingu and Tocantins Rivers (-142 to -154‰), yield more enriched values. The n-alkane dD values thus reflect the mean annual isotopic composition of precipitation, which is most deuterium-depleted in the western Amazon Basin and more enriched in the eastern sector of the basin. Samples from the Amazon estuary show a mixed long-chain n-alkane dD signal from both eastern lowland and western tributaries. Marine core-top samples underlying the Amazon freshwater plume yield dD values similar to those from the Amazon estuary, while core-top samples from outside the plume showed more enriched values. Although the variability in the river bed data precludes quantitative assessment of relative contributions, our results indicate that long-chain n-alkanes from the Amazon estuary and plume represent an integrated signal of different regions of the onshore basin. Our results also imply that n-alkanes are not extensively remineralized during transport and that the signal at the Amazon estuary and plume includes refractory compounds derived from the western sector of the Basin. These findings will aid in the interpretation of plant wax-based records of marine sediment cores collected from the adjacent ocean.

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Primary Division
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Peer revision
ISI/Scopus peer-reviewed
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Eprint ID
DOI 10.1016/j.gca.2016.07.002

Cite as
Häggi, C. , Sawakuchi, A. O. , Chiessi, C. M. , Mulitza, S. , Mollenhauer, G. , Sawakuchi, H. O. , Baker, P. A. , Zabel, M. and Schefuß, E. (2016): Origin, transport and deposition of leaf-wax biomarkers in the Amazon Basin and the adjacent Atlantic , Geochimica et Cosmochimica Acta, 192 , pp. 149-165 . doi: 10.1016/j.gca.2016.07.002



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