Evidence of recent flood deposits within a distal shelf depocenter and implications for terrestrial carbon preservation in non-deltaic shelf settings

Joseph A. Carlin, Kathryn M. Schreiner, Timothy M. Dellapenna, Andrew McGuffin, Richard W. Smith

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2 Scopus citations


Extreme episodic events have the capacity to transport large amounts of terrestrial material to the coastal ocean. While estuaries and deltas are typically thought to trap most of this material, some escapes these coastal features and is transported to distal depocenters along the continental shelf. Distal shelf depocenters can act as the ultimate sink for event deposits, yet event sedimentation and the impact of terrestrial carbon burial within these shelf deposits remains understudied. Therefore, this study investigated event sedimentation within the Texas Mud Blanket (TMB), a distal shelf depocenter of the Brazos River located in the northwestern Gulf of Mexico. Using a core that was collected from the TMB during a months-long elevated discharge event in late 2015 to early 2016 we applied a multi-proxy approach to delineate the event deposit. We utilized physical sediment properties (fabric, texture, and bulk density), radioisotopes (7Be and 210Pb), and organic geochemical properties (ẟ13C, C/N, and lignin-phenols) to identify a 10 cm event layer at the surface of the core. Within this 10 cm layer, we also distinguished two sub-layers associated with separate extreme discharge periods in the winter and spring, respectively. Using these event layer characteristics, we identified three other earlier potential event deposits in the core that we have attributed to events in 2010, 2007, and 2000–2001. From these results, this study has demonstrated that the TMB may be an archive for event deposits over multi-decadal time periods, in particular the transition from periods of prolonged drought to extreme wetness associated with the Brazos River. This event-dominated sedimentation regime can enhance long-term carbon burial, potentially increasing current estimates of carbon burial significantly in the TMB and other similar distal shelf depocenters. Ultimately this study highlights the potential for distal shelf depocenters as organic carbon burial “hotspots,” and postulates that this role may expand in the future as climate change increases the intensity and frequency of extreme events.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number106376
JournalMarine Geology
StatePublished - Jan 1 2021

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We would like to thank the crew of the R/V Trident and thank B. Hearron, D. Pereira, A. Pekowski, J. Medina, N. Mezzano, and F. Cook for assistance in the core collection in 2016. KMS would like to thank Lydia Sayers and Julia Agnich for help with lignin-phenol extraction and analysis and the Swenson Family Foundation for financial support. Finally, we would like thank Edward Anthony and 2 anonymous reviewers for their constructive comments that greatly improved this manuscript. This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant No. EAR-1548598 . Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2020 The Authors


  • Brazos River
  • Carbon burial
  • Continental shelf
  • Event sedimentation
  • Grain size
  • Gulf of Mexico
  • Lignin-phenols
  • Radioisotopes


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