Post-glacial climate forcing of surface processes in the Ganges–Brahmaputra river basin and implications for carbon sequestration Academic Article uri icon


  • Climate has been proposed to control both the rate of terrestrial silicate weathering and the export rate of associated sediments and terrestrial organic carbon to river-dominated margins – and thus the rate of sequestration of atmospheric CO2 in the coastal ocean – over glacial-interglacial timescales. Focused on the Ganges-Brahmaputra rivers, this study presents records of post-glacial changes in basin-scale Indian summer monsoon intensity and vegetation composition based on stable hydrogen (?D) and carbon (?13C) isotopic compositions of terrestrial plant wax compounds preserved in the channel-levee system of the Bengal Fan. It then explores the role of these changes in controlling the provenance and degree of chemical weathering of sediments exported by these rivers, and the potential climate feedbacks through organic-carbon burial in the Bengal Fan. An observed 40‰ shift in ?D and a 3–4‰ shift in both bulk organic-carbon and plant-wax ?13C values between the late glacial and mid-Holocene, followed by a return to more intermediate values during the late Holocene, correlates well with regional post-glacial paleoclimate records. Sediment provenance proxies (Sr, Nd isotopic compositions) reveal that these changes likely coincided with a subtle focusing of erosion on the southern flank of the Himalayan range during periods of greater monsoon strength and enhanced sediment discharge. However, grain-size-normalized organic-carbon concentrations in the Bengal Fan remained constant through time, despite order-of-magnitude level changes in catchment-scale monsoon precipitation and enhanced chemical weathering (recorded as a gradual increase in K/Si* and detrital carbonate content, and decrease in H2O+/Si*, proxies) throughout the study period. These findings demonstrate a partial decoupling of climate change and silicate weathering during the Holocene and that marine organic-carbon sequestration rates primary reflect rates of physical erosion and sediment export as modulated by climatic changes. Together, these results reveal the magnitude of climate changes within the Ganges-Brahmaputra basin following deglaciation and a closer coupling of monsoon strength with OC burial than with silicate weathering on millennial timescales.

publication date

  • November 2017