Sources and distribution of organic matter in northern Patagonia fjords, Chile (?44–47°S): A multi-tracer approach for carbon cycling assessment Academic Article uri icon


  • We investigated the provenance of organic matter in the inner fjord area of northern Patagonia, Chile (~44–47° S), by studying the elemental (organic carbon, total nitrogen), isotopic (?13C, ?15N), and biomarker (n–alkanoic acids from vascular plant waxes) composition of surface sediments as well as local marine and terrestrial organic matter. Average end–member values of N/C, ?13C, and ?15N from organic matter were 0.127 ± 0.010, –19.8 ± 0.3‰, and 9.9 ± 0.5‰ for autochthonous (marine) sources and 0.040 ± 0.018, –29.3 ± 2.1‰, 0.2 ± 3.0‰ for allochthonous (terrestrial) sources. Using a mixing equation based on these two end–members, we calculated the relative contribution of marine and terrestrial organic carbon from the open ocean to the heads of fjords close to river outlets. The input of marine–derived organic carbon varied widely and accounted for 13 to 96% (average 61%) of the organic carbon pool of surface sediments. Integrated regional calculations for the inner fjord system of northern Patagonia, which encompasses an area of ~ 4,280 km2, suggest that carbon accumulation may account for between 2.3 and 7.8 x 104 ton C yr–1. This represents a storage capacity of marine–derived carbon between 1.8 and 6.2 x 104 tons yr–1, which corresponds to an assimilation rate of CO2 by marine photosynthesis between 0.06 and 0.23 x 106 tons yr–1. This rate suggests that the entire fjord system of Patagonia, which covers an area of ~ 240,000 km2, may represent a potentially important region for the global burial of marine organic matter and the sequestration of atmospheric CO2.

publication date

  • March 2011