Alkane and PAH biomarkers as tracers of terrigenous organic carbon in Arctic Ocean sediments

  • Yunker M
  • Macdonald R
  • Snowdon L
 et al. 
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We present the first sedimentary biomarker study encompassing the entire Arctic Ocean. A large data set of organic markers for terrigenous, petroleum and combustion inputs [alkanes, hopanes and steranes, parent and alkyl polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs)] is examined for patterns in space and time using principal components analysis (PCA) and partial least squares (PLS). Biomarker patterns reveal the central Arctic Ocean basin sediments to be compositionally distinct from those of the Mackenzie River/Beaufort Sea and Barents Sea, but similar to those of the Laptev Sea. PAH distributions reflected in PAH ratios and PCA projections demonstrate that Arctic Ocean sediment is dominated by natural inputs to the extent that anthropogenic combustion PAHs are not significant. We find only modest changes between the glacial and post-glacial sediments for atmospherically transported hydrocarbon biomarkers, while particle associated biomarkers were captured strongly at basin edges during the glacial period, and much more evenly transported across basins during the post-glacial period. The orders of magnitude decreases in particle associated petrogenic alkanes and PAHs in central basins during glacial times, coupled with the uniformity of most petrogenic biomarker parameters for most basin and shelf locations, reflect a massive reduction in ice transport that makes the margins the most likely source of petrogenic material for the Pleistocene/Holocene central Arctic basins. The proximity of large coal deposits of various maturity levels along the Lena River, the overlap in PAH and biomarker composition of the Laptev Sea and surficial sediments from the central Arctic Ocean and the location of the Laptev Sea at the origin of the main Transpolar Drift all point to eroded coals from the Lena River/Laptev Sea as the likely source of petrogenic hydrocarbons to the central Arctic Ocean. The ubiquitous presence of allochthonous coal in Arctic Ocean surface sediments provides a major constraint on the use of petrogenic biomarkers to infer the presence of subsurface petroleum reserves. © 2011 Elsevier Ltd.

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