Tracking the Transformation and Preservation of Organic Biomarkers in a Varved Sediment-Core Series

Tuesday, 16 December 2014
Julie Tolu, Christian Bigler and Richard Bindler, Umeå University, Umeå, Sweden
An important premise for reconstructing environmental changes using sediment records is to understand which environmental information reaches the lake bottom and how diagenetic processes may affect the proxies, such as terrestrial and aquatic organic biomarkers. We can tackle this question using a unique series of varved sediment cores collected from the lake Nylandssjön (northern Sweden). In addition to limnological and sediment trap sampling since 2001, we have a collection of freeze cores taken in late winter and stored since 1979, which allows us to track individual varve years (e.g., 1978) over time (~30 years). A previous study using this collection showed that 23 % of C and 35 % of N were lost during the first 25 years with a C:N ratio increase of ≈21, suggesting important implications for diagenetic effects on organic biomarkers.

To assess the preservation/transformation of organic biomarkers, we developed a new Pyrolysis-Gas Chromatography/Mass Spectrometry method that allows the rapid determination of biomarkers from the common OM classes (e.g., plant waxes, microbial lipids, lignins) using sub-mg sample sizes and thus applicable to high-resolution sampling of the varved sediment (Tolu et al., under review).

Our results show that the different biomarkers exhibit a broad spectrum of reactivities over ~30 years -% change determined by ([Peak area at t] – [Peak area at t=0])/ [peak area at t=0] x 100-. For example: 67-80 % of the algal chlorophyll-derived product ‘phytene’ is lost depending which single varve year is followed over time (e.g., 1979). Only 12-32 % of “pristene”, the degraded form of algal chlorophyll, is lost. The guaiacyl and syringyl lignin units are affected by a smaller loss, i.e. 5-15 %, and the S/G ratio, indicative of angiosperm/gymnosperm plant input remains stable, which is contrary to previous work on non-varved lake sediments. Considering all biomarkers, the degradation/production plateaued after ~15 years, which indicates that reconstructions of changes in OM quality sedimentation can be safely done from the 15th varve without further significant changes induced by diagenesis. To reconstruct changes in OM quality within the recent 15 years, the stable biomarkers and the degradation rates of the non-stable ones have to be used. 1 Gälman et al. (2008) Limnol Oceanogr 53: 1076