Current biogeochemical processes and element fluxes in surface sediments of temperate marginal seas (Baltic Sea and Black Sea)

  • The aims of this study were to quantify the key mineralization processes and the resulting nutrient release potentials of different sediment types, their ranges of extent and dependency on varying environmental conditions such as seasonal variations or shifts in oxygen availability. Benthic phosphate fluxes and flux potentials were of particular interest as P is an essential nutrient for algal growth in marine systems and phosphate is often limiting primary production, hence strongly promotes the production of new biomass. A major P source in marine environments are mineralization products of early diagenetic processes. To gain insight into the pathways of organic matter mineralization and subsequent secondary reactions, key reactants in the solid and the dissolved phase were considered in typical sediments of the Baltic Sea and the Black Sea. Seven study sites in the German Baltic Sea region, representative of the major depositional environments, including coarse and fine grained sediments, both rich or poor in organic carbon, were intensively studied. The investigations were conducted on a seasonal basis during ten ship-based expeditions between July 2013 and March 2016, covering spring- and autumn algal blooms, stagnation periods with bottom water hypoxia and winter dormancy. Hypoxic conditions frequently developed in the bottom waters of the Bay of Mecklenburg, Stoltera and the Arkona Basin sites, shallower stations like the Tromper Wiek, the Oder Bank and the Darss Sill were usually not affected by hypoxia. Increased nutrient concentrations in the bottom waters coincided with oxygen depletion. High salinity dynamics were observed in the bottom waters above the studied sediments, which were due to frequent salt water inflows from the North Sea. Bottom water temperature variability was seasonally conditioned. The studied sands showed 2-3 orders of magnitude higher permeability values and about one order of magnitude lower organic matter contents compared to the studied muds. Occasionally, strongly increased organic matter contents were observed in the sands, likely induced by downward mixing of plankton bloom derived particles. The organic matter was found to be essentially supplied by marine phytoplankton, indicated by its elemental composition and isotopic signature. Additionally, an adapted approach of the Keeling plot method was made to characterize the source material of organic matter mineralization. In marine environments, dissolved inorganic carbon concentrations often increase with depth together with an isotopic carbon signature shift to lighter values due to organic matter mineralization. The Keeling plot method was commonly used to determine the isotopic signature of carbon sources for ecosystem respiration. Conventionally, the influence of respiratory depletion of 13CO2 on the isotopic composition of the atmosphere was studied in terrestrial and limnic biogeochemistry. The same approach was applied on organic matter mineralization in sediments and the water column during this study. Mixing of bottom water derived background DIC and DIC released into the environment during organic carbon decomposition was assumed. In a modification of previous approaches, where changes in concentration and δ13C of DIC were followed over time, vertical profiles were analyzed in this study, which represent time-dependent variations superimposed by transport processes . DI13C gradients in the water column of the Black Sea and pore water profiles in the Black Sea and the Baltic Sea were used to estimate the 13C signature of the mineralized organic carbon via Keeling plot analysis. The Black Sea water column revealed a δ13C signature of the organic matter source close to the signature of typical particulate organic matter in the ocean and previously reported values for the Black Sea euphotic zone. In the pore waters of Black Sea sediments (from short and long sediment cores), Keeling plot analysis clearly demonstrates that the released DIC at depth can be derived from different sources. An isotopically very light carbon source (< –60 ‰) was associated with anaerobic oxidation of methane in the Black Sea. Marine organic matter was the principal source for DIC in the deeps of Baltic Sea basins, while the calculated carbon source isotopic signature in sediments of sand flats and bays was shifted to heavier δ13C signatures compared to marine organic matter. These shifts were attributed to potential dissolution of sedimentary carbonates or organic inputs of terrestrial C4 vascular plants like maize and other agricultural plants. The carbon source isotopic composition calculated via Keeling plot analysis correlated well with directly measured δ13C signatures of surface sediments POM. Organic matter mineralization activity in the southern Baltic Sea sediments was studied via gross sulfate reduction rate analysis and total oxygen uptake measurements in sands and muds. Oxygen penetration depths were less than 4 mm in both, muddy and sandy sediments. Oxygen uptake rates were similar in muds (10.2 mmol m–2 d–1) and sands (10.7 mmol m–2 d–1), while significantly higher rates were measured in the coastal near sites of the Bay of Mecklenburg (about 12 mmol m–2 d–1) than in the deeper Arkona Basin (about 9 mmol m–2 d–1). Substantial sulfate reduction was measured in the muddy (about 4 mmol m–2 d–1) and the sandy (about 1 mmol m–2 d–1) study sites. Highest sulfate reduction rates (4.4 – 5 mmol m–2 d–1) were detected in the muds of the Bay of Mecklenburg during summer, about twice as high as in the Arkona Basin muds. Increased mineralization activity of the coastal near muds of the Bay of Mecklenburg is attributed to enhanced input of fresh organic matter during algal blooms. About twofold higher oxygen consumption and sulfate reduction rates were measured in summer compared to winter in sandy and muddy sediments. The studied sites were usually characterized by a typical biogeochemical zonation with oxic, suboxic and sulfidic zones. The concentration profiles in the muds reflected sulfate reduction and secondary redox-reactions, liberating dissolved carbon, nitrogen, phosphorus and hydrogen sulfide into the interstitial waters. Orders of magnitude lower concentrations were detected in the sands, while their top centimeters were mostly irrigated and mineralization products only accumulated below. A several centimeter thick suboxic zone was sustained by active downward transport of oxidized material in the southern Baltic Sea coastal sediments, presumably mainly through bioturbation. Especially sulfur and iron species were involved in the secondary reactions between the metabolites of early diagenetic processes occurring in the suboxic zone. Partly high temporal variability was observed in the form of vertical migration of the sulfidic zone and a corresponding expansion and shrinking of the suboxic zone. The Arkona Basin site showed the most stable geochemical zonation over time, while the Luebeck Bight site and especially the Mecklenburg Bight site showed striking dynamics. The consequent redox-regime shifts within the surface sediments might promote mineralization of organic matter as higher sulfate reduction rates and higher total oxygen uptake were measured in these more dynamic muds. The vertical shifts of the redox-gradients can largely be explained by temporal and spatial variability of bioturbation activity, but also anthropogenic activities may play a role. Bottom trawling, may be the dominant mixing process at the Mecklenburg Bight site. In the sands, less reactive iron and manganese contents were available compared to the studied muds, which may be due to frequent irrigation of the top centimeters leading to a loss of pore water reservoirs like dissolved Fe and Mn. Another mixing process, storm induced sediment resuspension, was suggested to be important for the sediments in the study area. A severe sediment resuspension event at the silty Tromper Wiek site was indicated by steep gradients in pore water concentration and particulate mater content profiles in the top ∼ 5 cm sediments. Carrying out non steady state modeling (Bo Liu, IOW), the successive re-development of the pore water profiles towards a steady-state was simulated and the time span necessary to establish measured pore water profiles after the sediment disturbance event was approximated. In the predicted time span, daily average wind speeds reached an annual high of the category ‘gale’ which was probably sufficient to resuspend and irrigate the surface silt-type sediments. This study showed that sediment mixing processes have a strong influence on early diagenetic reactions, solute release potentials and actual fluxes from the sediments. Also the sediment mixing via bottom trawl fishing can be regarded as an event-like disturbance. The newly developed approach of non-steady-state modeling of pore water sets (Bo Liu; IOW) can help to answer the question, how long it takes to reach a steady-state after a sediment disturbance event. The concentration profiles in interstitial waters were used to calculate net transformation rates via the transport-reaction models REC and PROFILE. The calculations revealed net release of H4SiO4 and PO4 within the top 20 cm of the studied muds, while net DIC and NH+4 consumption and sulfate production was clearly evident within the top ∼ 5 cm. Intensive reoxidation of sulfide that was produced via sulfate reduction was also indicated by large deviations between the modeled net sulfate transformation rates and experimentally derived gross sulfate reduction rates. These surface near transformations were probably associated with microbial chemosynthesis. The studied sands of the southern Baltic Sea were usually characterized by very low pore water gradients, probably due to their frequent irrigation. Accordingly, calculated transformation rates were one to two orders of magnitude lower in the studied sands compared to the muds of the southern Baltic Sea. However, during a situation with a stratified water column, substantial pore water reservoirs with the typical concentration trends were present in the sandy Darss Sill sediments. Integrated production rates of PO4, Mn2+ and H4SiO4 derived from these concentration profiles were in the same order of magnitude as in the muddy Arkona Basin. Intensive pore water irrigation is also capable to transport fresh organic matter into the sediment as was occasionally indicated by strongly increased surface near TOC in the sands. Considerable gross sulfate reduction rates and total oxygen uptake rates were measured in the sandy Oder Bank sediments, where pore water concentration profiles rather suggested absence of diagenetic processes. The studied sands were, hence, not unreactive substrates but usually rather unable to preserve the mineralization products. This reflects the often limited significance of pore water evaluations in irrigated sandy sites but also the high mineralization potentials of coastal sands. Early diagenetic processes and the impact of intense benthic-pelagic exchange in such shallow marine environments is still poorly understood, as they were rarely investigated in the past and are methodologically more difficult to investigate. The Baltic Sea deeps Gotland Deep and Landsort Deep were mainly controlled by sulfate reduction and shallow anaerobic oxidation of methane. Calculated rates of net sulfate reduction and net sulfide production were equivalent, indicating a lack of sulfide re-oxidation reactions. Phosphate liberation rates were low in the surface sediments, but strong linear concentration gradients indicated liberation at depth. The euxinic Black Sea sediments were purely controlled by sulfate reduction via anaerobic oxidation of methane at the sulfate-methane transition zone in sediment depths of up to several meters. Subsequent diffusive concentration gradients clearly dominated pore water profiles in the surface sediments. Benthic solute reservoirs of the top 10 cm pore waters were generally higher in the muds than in the sands of the southern Baltic Sea. The smaller reservoirs in the sands were cause by intensive exchange between pore water and bottom water in these permeable sediments. The three studied muddy sites of the southern Baltic Sea showed great dissimilarities with respect to their pore water compositions. Large observed pools of dissolved Fe2+ and PO4 clearly point to reduction of reactive Fe and release of adsorbed P pools. Multi-dimensional scaling analysis showed that seasonal variability played only a minor role for the observed variability of the benthic solute reservoirs. Principal component analysis revealed that the studied sediments can be characterized by essentially two factors based on their pore water reservoirs of the top 10 cm: 1) their mineralization and accumulation efficiency and 2) their secondary reactions in the suboxic zone, reflecting fundamental differences in their sedimentation conditions and mixing processes. While the sands were similar to each other due to their overall low reservoirs, sands, silts and muds mainly differed in their mineralization and accumulation efficiency. Large variability was also observed within the studied muds regarding their predominating redox metabolites. Highest dissimilarities were evident between the neighboring sites Mecklenburg Bight (mostly suboxic) and Luebeck Bight (mostly sulfidic). Therefore, the biogeochemical state in the studied sediments were shown to be mainly controlled by their sediment type and the transport of reactive iron into the sediments. The supply of organic matter to the sea floor controlled the overall mineralization activity, while the sediment permeability determined the accumulation efficiency of the sediment. Mixing of surface sediments together with the complex relation of oxygen, sulfur, iron and phosphorus in the solid and aqueous phase is controlling benthic nutrient fixation/liberation reactions. Salinity variability showed no noticeable effects on early diagenetic processes. During four sampling occasions in the Arkona Basin, bottom water salinity showed strong variability which was also effecting pore water concentration profiles in more than 15 cm depth. However, concentration profiles of typical organic matter mineralization products remained remarkably stable. Also gross sulfate reduction rates seemed to be unaffected by the variable pore water sulfate concentrations. Nutrient fluxes across the sediment-water interface were obtained by the interpretation of vertical pore water concentration profiles via different models (diffusive fluxes) and via incubation of intact sediment cores (total fluxes). Benthic diffusive fluxes represent potential release of solutes into the water column. They were often strongly associated with the benthic reservoirs, thus fluxes were highest in the muds, considerably lower in the organic-poorer silts, and generally close to zero in the sands. The dissimilarities between diffusive fluxes in the different sediments were mainly controlled by the sediment type. Highest variability was observed within the muds, controlled by their different diagenetic pathways due to different sediment mixing intensities. In the muddy sediments, diffusive PO4 fluxes were much higher than mineralization of organic matter with the common element ratios of marine organic matter can provide, indicating active recycling of phosphorus within the muds due to recurring adsorption and re-release on reactive iron oxyhydroxide phases. Especially in the strongly mixed Mecklenburg Bight sediments, pore water dissolved PO4 was primarily controlled by the release of adsorbed P. Actual PO4 release into the bottom waters (determined via core incubation experiments) was only measured under extended bottom water oxygen deficiency conditions. The same applied to the redox-sensitive solutes Fe2+, Mn2+ and sulfide. For the less redox-sensitive solutes, diffusion usually accounted only for a fraction of the total interfacial flux. The proportion of advective to diffusive transport was estimated with different methods. Bioturbation induced sediment mixing was quantified by comparing the diffusive H4SiO4 fluxes derived from pore water modeling with the total fluxes derived from the core incubations. The studied muds showed infauna induced advection proportions of about 35 – 100 %. Only when infauna was absent, diffusion became the dominant transport process across the sediment-water interface. In the studied sands, advection was the dominating transport process, since their generally low surface near reservoirs lead to diffusive fluxes close to zero. However, it remains unclear whether bioturbation or hydrodynamic irrigation are responsible for that. An attempt was made to estimate the effect of hydrodynamic irrigation for a range of reasonable bottom water velocities from the sediment bedform geometry after Neumann et al. (2017). However, resulting potential hydrodynamic irrigation was found to be rather low compared to reported values from the literature and may significantly underestimate actual irrigation of the sandy sediments. In a new non steady-state multi-element diagenetic modeling approach (Bo Liu, IOW), vertical δ13C pore water profiles were used to estimate the significance of advective transport processes. Mixing processes at the sediment-water interface were expressed as multiple of pure diffusion (ε). By adjusting this mixing coefficient as boundary condition for best fits of predicted to measured pore water profiles, the degree of these mixing processes was estimated. In the Arkona Basin surface sediments, this approach revealed best fits assuming a mixing depth of 3.5 cm with a tenfold higher total mixing degree based on diffusional transport. The calculated mixing depths and intensities were similar to bioturbation depths and rates obtained via traditional methods (Morys, 2016). The novel modeling approach is a promising method to evaluate surface sediment mixing processes. Increased mineralization activity during productive seasons lead to increased oxygen consumption and therefore frequent bottom water hypoxia. The effects of hypoxic bottom water conditions on the early diagenetic processes in the sediments were studied via prolonged core incubation experiments. Shifts to bottom water oxygen deficiency had various consequences for benthic reservoirs and fluxes. The oxygen consumption decreased during hypoxic incubation phases. Decreased bioturbation activity diminished advective transport so that total fluxes of redox-insensitive solutes (e.g. H4SiO4) were decreased. Reactive iron and manganese oxides act as barrier (“iron curtain”) in the suboxic zone, preventing redox-sensitive solutes from their release into the water column. After a shift to bottom water hypoxia, these reactive oxides are re-dissolved and liberated into the water column. Prolonged incubation experiments suggested that the Mn-oxide reservoirs were depleted first before the Fe-oxides with the adsorptively bound phosphate were liberated. The release of nutrients (especially phosphorus), dissolved inorganic carbon, and redox- sensitive compounds (e.g. hydrogen sulfide) strongly varied in the different studied environments, covering coastal-near oxic, temporary hypoxic and euxinic conditions. In environments, where advection through hydrodynamic irrigation or bioturbation do not occur, like in anoxic or euxinic systems, surface-near pore water gradients reflect total solute interfacial fluxes. They depend on the supply of organic matter to the sea floor, the mineralization rates in the sediments and the composition of the overlying bottom water. In the Black Sea, much of the organic matter mineralization was performed already in the water column and not in the sediments, leading to a decreasing export of organic matter to the sediment and increasing concentrations of mineralization products in the bottom water with increasing water depth. Accordingly, benthic fluxes across the sediment-water interface of the deep Black Sea sites were the lowest of the entire study, essentially reflecting the low mineralization rates of AOM in deeper layers. Highest fluxes in the Black Sea were observed at the continental slope at intermediate water depths, but were still lower than in the Baltic Sea deeps. In contrast, highest DIC fluxes were detected in the oxygen depleted Baltic Sea deeps Gotland Deep and Landsort Deep. These basins are shallow enough that reactive organic matter reaches the sea floor, where it is mineralized via sulfate reduction close to the sediment surface. Strong concentration gradients and therefore high diffusive interfacial fluxes across the sediment-water interface were evident. As bioturbation was absent, these diffusive fluxes were representative for total interfacial fluxes unlike in sediments with additional advective flux components. In more complex environments, like coastal oxic sediments, inhabited by macrofauna, overflowed by currents and affected by resuspension events, the sediment surface represents an interface between turbulent and calm conditions, high and low concentrations and/or different redox-states. Such gradients are the basis for intensive exchange processes. The surface sediments in the coastal sites of the southern Baltic Sea were characterized by active organic matter mineralization via sulfate reduction and mixing induced secondary reactions taking place in the suboxic zone. This included the removal of dissolved sulfide due to iron oxide reduction with simultaneous liberation of PO4 into the interstitial waters. High surface near P reservoirs existed due to internal P cycling within the sediments, which was in turn driven by continuous re-oxidation of the reduced iron by downwards transported oxygen. These reservoirs were only actually released into the water column during bottom water oxygen deficiency situations, when the iron re-oxidation was inhibited. This also applies for sediments of the Gulf of Finland and the deeper Baltic Sea basins Bornholm Basin and Gdanks basin, where temporary hypoxic conditions are responsible for recurrent benthic phosphate release. The widespread occurring phosphate adsorption on sedimentary solid iron phases is a much debated ecosystem service of marine sediments. As discussed in this work, the sedimentary P liberation rates and pools of readily bio-available dissolved phosphate can be substantial in Baltic Sea muddy sediments. Actual phosphate fluxes across the sediment-water interface, though, are relatively small because phosphate is scavenged by adsorption on iron oxyhydroxides that are usually an integral part of coastal marine sediments if overlain by oxic bottom waters. Although muddy sediments often show only an oxic layer of only few millimeters thickness, adsorption capacities of iron oxyhydroxides are large enough to substantially retain P from being liberated into the water column. Falling under reducing conditions, iron oxyhydroxides are re-dissolved, liberating high amounts of PO4 into the surrounding waters. While permanently oxic sediments will preserve adsorbed P, permanently anoxic sediments steadily release mineralized P into the water column. However, sedimentary environments of oscillating redox conditions are predestined for high, burst-like benthic P fluxes. Especially in a quasi isolated environment like the Baltic Sea, with high nutrient inputs but only few sinks, these internal recycling processes promote eutrophication in the long-term. Further expanding hypoxia and anoxia in the Baltic Sea with a subsequent loss of benthic fauna and altered nutrient dynamics in the surface sediments may be the consequence.
  • Ziel dieser Studie war es, die wichtigsten Mineralisierungsprozesse und die daraus resultierenden Nährstofffreisetzungspotenziale verschiedener Sedimenttypen zu quantifizieren sowie ihr Ausmaß und ihre Abhängigkeit von unterschiedlichen Umweltbedingungen wie saisonalen Schwankungen oder Verschiebungen der Sauerstoffverfügbarkeit zu erfassen. Um Einblicke in die Wege der Mineralisierung organischer Stoffe und der anschließenden Sekundärreaktionen zu gewinnen, wurden wichtige Reaktanden in der festen und gelösten Phase typischer mariner Sedimenten der Ostsee und dem Schwarzen Meer untersucht.

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Author: Marko Lipka
Title Additional (German):Biogeochemische Prozesse und Elementflüsse in Oberflächensedimenten von gemäßigten Randmeeren (Ostsee und Schwarzes Meer)
Referee:Prof. Dr. Michael E. Böttcher, Prof. Dr. Jens Hartmann
Advisor:Prof. Dr. Michael E. Böttcher
Document Type:Doctoral Thesis
Year of Completion:2017
Date of first Publication:2018/11/14
Granting Institution:Ernst-Moritz-Arndt-Universität, Mathematisch-Naturwissenschaftliche Fakultät (bis 31.05.2018)
Date of final exam:2018/07/12
Release Date:2018/11/14
Tag:Baltic Sea, Benthic solute reservoirs, Biogeochemistry, Black Sea, Flux, Keeling Analysis, Nutrient, Pore water, Sediment mixing, marine Sediment
GND Keyword:Biogeochemistry, Flux, Mineralisation, Pore water, Sediment
Faculties:Mathematisch-Naturwissenschaftliche Fakultät / Institut für Geologische Wissenschaften
DDC class:500 Naturwissenschaften und Mathematik / 550 Geowissenschaften, Geologie