The University of Arizona

Depositional Processes of Organic Matter in the Rhone River Delta (Gulf of Lion, France) Traced by Density Fractionation Coupled with ∆14C and δ13C

Flora Toussaint, Nadine Tisnérat-Laborde, Cécile Cathalot, Roselyne Buscail, Philippe Kerhervé, Christophe Rabouille


As a main source of freshwater and particles, the Rhône River plays a major role in the biogeochemical cycle of organic carbon (OC) in the Mediterranean Sea. To better understand the origin of organic matter and the processes leading to its export to the coastal sea near the Rhône River, we measured radiocarbon (∆14C) and stable carbon isotopes (δ13C) in the sediments of the delta, after density fractionation. In April 2007, 3 sites located along an offshore transect (A, C, and E) were sampled for surface sediments, and bulk sediment was separated into 4 fractions of different densities (<1.6, 1.6–2, 2–2.5, and >2.5 g cm–3). In order to better understand the evolution of the OC along the transect, we investigated the OC sources and their evolution for each density fraction. Bulk OC shows a large increase in δ13C from –27.2‰ nearshore to –24.5‰ at offshore stations while ∆14C decreased from 59‰ to –320‰. The distribution of ä13C with density displayed a convex pattern at all stations. Except for fraction >2.5 g cm–3, δ13C increases by 2.5‰ between stations A and E, indicating a loss of terrestrial signature. The distribution of ∆14C versus density had a concave pattern at all stations: at a single station, it showed a large heterogeneity with a difference of 500–600‰ between the <1.6 and 2–2.5 g cm–3 fractions. A decrease in ∆14C of –400‰ among the different density fractions was observed along the offshore transect. The density fraction >2.5 g cm–3 had less variability, with an average δ13C of –24.6 ± 0.4‰ and ∆14C of –370 ± 115‰. Several processes may explain this distribution: retention in the prodelta of large particles; mineralization of all fractions during the transport and deposition in the delta and shelf sediments; and dilution of terrestrial particles in continental shelf pool.

DOI: 10.2458/azu_js_rc.55.16287


sediment; density fractions; stable isotopes of carbon; radiocarbon

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