The recent retreat of glaciers and ice sheets as a result of global warming exposes forefield soils that are rapidly colonized by microbes. These ecosystems are dominant in high-latitude carbon and nutrient cycles as microbial activity drives biogeochemical transformations within these newly exposed soils. Despite this, little is known about the response of these emerging ecosystems and associated biogeochemical cycles to projected changes in environmental factors due to human impacts. Here, we applied the model SHIMMER to quantitatively explore the sensitivity of biogeochemical dynamics in the forefield of Midtre Lovénbreen, Svalbard, to future changes in climate and anthropogenic forcings including soil temperature, snow cover, and nutrient and organic substrate deposition. Model results indicated that the rapid warming of the Arctic, as well as an increased deposition of organic carbon and nutrients, may impact primary microbial colonizers in Arctic soils. Warming and increased snow-free conditions resulted in enhanced bacterial production and an accumulation of biomass that was sustained throughout 200 years of soil development. Nitrogen deposition stimulated growth during the first 50 years of soil development following exposure. Increased deposition of organic carbon sustained higher rates of bacterial production and heterotrophic respiration leading to decreases in net ecosystem production and thus net CO2 efflux from soils. Pioneer microbial communities were particularly susceptible to future changes. All future climate simulations encouraged a switch from allochthonously-dominated young soils (<40 years) to microbially-dominated older soils, due to enhanced heterotrophic degradation of organic matter. Critically, this drove remineralisation and increased nutrient availability. Overall, we show that human activity, especially the burning of fossil fuels and the enhanced deposition of nitrogen and organic carbon, has the potential to considerably affect the biogeochemical development of recently exposed Arctic soils in the present day and for centuries into the future. These effects must be acknowledged when attempting to make accurate predictions of the future fate of Arctic soils that are exposed over large expanses of presently ice-covered regions.
Marine sediments contribute significantly to global element cycles on multiple time scales. This is due in large part to microbial activity in the shallower layers and abiotic reactions resulting from increasing temperatures and pressures at greater depths. Quantifying the rates of these diagenetic changes requires a three-dimensional description of the physiochemical properties of marine sediments. In a step toward reaching this goal, we have combined global data sets describing bathymetry, heat conduction, bottom-water temperatures, and sediment thickness to quantify the three-dimensional distribution of temperature in marine sediments. This model has revealed that ∼35% of sediments are above 60 °C, conditions that are suitable for petroleum generation. Furthermore, significant microbial activity could be inhibited in ∼25% of marine sediments, if 80 °C is taken as a major thermal barrier for subsurface life. In addition to a temperature model, we have calculated new values for the total volume (3.01 × 108 km3) and average thickness (721 m) of marine sediments, and provide the only known determination of the volume of marine-sediment pore water (8.46 × 107 km3), equivalent to ∼6.3% of the volume of the ocean. The results presented here can be used to help quantify the rates of mineral transformations, lithification, catagenesis, and the extent of life in the subsurface on a global scale.
Quantifying the rates of biogeochemical processes in marine sediments is essential for understanding global element cycles and climate change. Because organic matter degradation is the engine behind benthic dynamics, deciphering the impact that various forces have on this process is central to determining the evolution of the Earth system. Therefore, recent developments in the quantitative modeling of organic matter degradation in marine sediments are critically reviewed. The first part of the review synthesizes the main chemical, biological and physical factors that control organic matter degradation in sediments while the second part provides a general review of the mathematical formulations used to model these processes and the third part evaluates their application over different spatial and temporal scales. Key transport mechanisms in sedimentary environments are summarized and the mathematical formulation of the organic matter degradation rate law is described in detail. The roles of enzyme kinetics, bioenergetics, temperature and biomass growth in particular are highlighted. Alternative model approaches that quantify the degradation rate constant are also critically compared. In the third part of the review, the capability of different model approaches to extrapolate organic matter degradation rates over a broad range of temporal and spatial scales is assessed. In addition, the structure, functions and parameterization of more than 250 published models of organic matter degradation in marine sediments are analyzed. The large range of published model parameters illustrates the complex nature of organic matter dynamics, and, thus, the limited transferability of these parameters from one site to another. Compiled model parameters do not reveal a statistically significant correlation with single environmental characteristics such as water depth, deposition rate or organic matter flux. The lack of a generic framework that allows for model parameters to be constrained in data-poor areas seriously limits the quantification of organic matter degradation on a global scale. Therefore, we explore regional patterns that emerge from the compiled more than 250 organic matter rate constants and critically discuss them in their environmental context. This review provides an interdisciplinary view on organic matter degradation in marine sediments. It contributes to an improved understanding of global patterns in benthic organic matter degradation, and helps identify outstanding questions and future directions in the modeling of organic matter degradation in marine sediments.