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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Photochemical reactivity of ancient marine dissolved organic carbon


Marine dissolved organic carbon (DOC) is the largest reservoir of reduced carbon in seawater and persists up to 4,000–6,000 conventional radiocarbon (14C) years on average. Photochemical degradation has been suggested as a geochemical sink for these long-lived molecules, yet there have been no studies relating photochemical lability to the14C-ages of surface DOC. We observed apparent second order (2°) kinetics with respect to DOC and a strong trend from Δ14C-enriched to depleted values during exhaustive photomineralization of surface marine DOC with high energy UV light. Geochemically, these results suggest that surface DOC is an isotopically-heterogeneous mixture of molecules for which photochemical lability and14C ages are correlated. Photochemical mineralization may therefore be an important control on the persistence of 14C-depleted DOC in the ocean.

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