Differential manganese and iron recycling and transport in continental margin sediments of the Northern Gulf of Mexico

Research areas:
Diagenetic processes, Manganese and iron cycling, Sulfate, Reduction, Continental slope sediments, River-dominated margins, Mississippi delta, Northern Gulf of Mexico
  • Shannon M. Owings
  • Laurie Bréthous
  • Eryn M. Eitel
  • Benjamin P. Fields
  • Anthony Boever
  • Jordon S. Beckler
  • Bruno Bombled
  • Bruno Lansard
  • Édouard Metzger
  • Christophe Rabouille
  • Martial Taillefert
Marine Chemistry
Pore water and solid phase geochemical profiles of sediment cores collected along two transects on the western and eastern sides of the Mississippi River mouth in the northern Gulf of Mexico were incorporated into a reactive transport model to determine the role of manganese and iron in the remineralization of carbon. Reactive transport model calculations indicate that sedimentation rates control the intensity of anaerobic carbon remineralization and select for the dominant anaerobic carbon remineralization pathways. Although sulfate reduction dominates the shelf station (65 m water depth), denitrification and microbial manganese reduction appear equally significant anaerobic respiration processes along the continental slope the closest to the Mississippi River, whereas microbial iron reduction does not represent an important process in these sediments. These findings suggest that the differential kinetics of manganese and iron redox transformations influence carbon remineralization processes on the continental slope. The fast kinetics of Fe2+ oxidation near the sediment-water interface and high sedimentation rates maintain Fe under the form of Fe(III) oxides and thermodynamically prevent sulfate reduction from dominating carbon remineralization processes on the slope, whereas the much slower Mn2+ oxygenation kinetics allows diffusion of Mn2+ across the sediment-water interface of the shelf station closest to the river mouth. Exposure to oxygenated bottom waters and entrainment within mobile muds typical of deltaic sediments during high riverine discharge likely promote the formation and downslope transport of Mn(III/IV) oxides within the nepheloid layer. This phenomenon appears to form a manganese ‘conveyor belt’ that selectively enriches Mn(III/IV) oxides relative to Fe(III) oxides in the deep sediment. In contrast, the intensity of anaerobic carbon remineralization processes along the eastern continental slope the farthest from the Mississippi River plume is much lower due to the low organic and lithogenic inputs, and denitrification dominates anaerobic respiration. Overall, these findings suggest that manganese cycling and its role in carbon remineralization processes in continental slope sediments exposed to large riverine inputs may be more important than previously considered.