Oceanic dissolved organic carbon (DOC) is an important carbon pool, similar in magnitude to atmospheric CO2, but the fate of its oldest forms is not well understood1,2. Hot hydrothermal circulation may facilitate the degradation of otherwise un-reactive dissolved organic matter, playing an important role in the long-term global carbon cycle. The oldest, most recalcitrant forms of DOC, which make up most of oceanic DOC, can be recovered by solid-phase extraction. Here we present measurements of solid-phase extractable DOC from samples collected between 2009 and 2013 at seven vent sites in the Atlantic, Pacific and Southern oceans, along with magnesium concentrations, a conservative tracer of water circulation through hydrothermal systems. We find that magnesium and solid-phase extractable DOC concentrations are correlated, suggesting that solid-phase extractable DOC is almost entirely lost from solution through mineralization or deposition during circulation through hydrothermal vents with fluid temperatures of 212–401 °C. In laboratory experiments, where we heated samples to 380 °C for four days, we found a similar removal efficiency. We conclude that thermal degradation alone can account for the loss of solid-phase extractable DOC in natural hydrothermal systems, and that its maximum lifetime is constrained by the timescale of hydrothermal cycling, at about 40 million years3.
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We thank the captains, crews and ROV pilots from the numerous cruises that allowed us to gather this data set. We also thank M. Friebe and J. Pampin Baro for help with DOC measurements. J.A.H. was financially supported by the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation. A.S. was financially supported by a fellowship from the Hanse Institute for Advanced Studies (HWK, Delmenhorst, Germany) and NSF grant 1234704. This publication is partially financially supported by the Joint Institute for the Study of the Atmosphere and Ocean (JISAO) under NOAA Cooperative Agreement NA10OAR4320148, JISAO contribution number 1600, PMEL Contribution number 4257. E.P.A. acknowledges financial support from the UK National Environmental Research Council (NE/G015732/1). V.C. acknowledges financial support from CNRS-INSU. W.B. acknowledges financial support from MARUM.
The authors declare no competing financial interests.
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Hawkes, J., Rossel, P., Stubbins, A. et al. Efficient removal of recalcitrant deep-ocean dissolved organic matter during hydrothermal circulation. Nature Geosci 8, 856–860 (2015). https://doi.org/10.1038/ngeo2543
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