Stable isotopic and biomarker evidence of terrigenous organic matter export to the deep sea during tropical storms

K. Selvaraj*, T. Y. Lee, J. Y.T. Yang, E. A. Canuel, J. C. Huang, M. Dai, J. T. Liu, S. J. Kao

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

38 Citations (Scopus)


The global export of organic carbon (OC) is intimately linked to the total flux of terrestrial sediment to the ocean, with the continental margins receiving ~90% of the sediment generated by erosion on land. Recent studies suggest that a substantial amount of particulate OC (POC) might escape from the shelf and be exported to the continental slope-deep sea sector, although the mechanisms and magnitude of such deep sea POC transfer remain unknown. Here we investigate hyperpycnal flow-associated total suspended matter (TSM) collected from water depths of ~3000m, near the bottom of sea floor, in the Gaoping Submarine Canyon (GSC) off southwestern Taiwan. Elemental (C, N), isotopic (δ13C, δ15N) and biomarker compositions of TSM were investigated to understand its biogeochemical characteristics. A two end-member δ13C mixing model indicates that deep sea TSM contains ~90% terrigenous OC, while a similar mixing model using δ15N reveals a lower proportion (~58%). Organic biomarkers of TSM suggest contributions from a mixture of resuspended, continental-margin derived marine organic matter (OMMAR) and terrigenous sources, revealing that terrestrial OC likely mixes with nitrogen-rich marine material during rapid transport. This study documents that rapid transfer of terrigenous organic matter (OMTERR) into the deeper regions of GSC occurred within a week of typhoon Morakot, likely through hyperpycnal injection of sediment-laden, warm freshwater from southern Taiwan. Evidence from this typhoon Morakot-induced hyperpycnal plume event in Taiwan demonstrates that extreme storm events provide an efficient way to export terrigenous OC without oxidation to hitherto unknown water depths of deep sea in the Oceania region.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)32-42
Number of pages11
JournalMarine Geology
Publication statusPublished - 2015 Jun 1


  • Deep sea export
  • Gaoping submarine canyon
  • Organic carbon
  • Particulate matter
  • SW Taiwan
  • Storm events

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Oceanography
  • Geology
  • Geochemistry and Petrology


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