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.
The fluids emanating from active submarine hydrothermal vent chimneys provide a window into subseafloor processes and, through mixing with seawater, are responsible for steep thermal and compositional gradients that provide the energetic basis for diverse biological communities. Although several models have been developed to better understand the dynamic interplay of seawater, hydrothermal fluid, minerals and microorganisms inside chimney walls, none provide a fully integrated approach to quantifying the biogeochemistry of these hydrothermal systems. In an effort to remedy this, a fully coupled biogeochemical reaction-transport model of a hydrothermal vent chimney has been developed that explicitly quantifies the rates of microbial catalysis while taking into account geochemical processes such as fluid flow, solute transport and oxidation–reduction reactions associated with fluid mixing as a function of temperature. The metabolisms included in the reaction network are methanogenesis, aerobic oxidation of hydrogen, sulfide and methane and sulfate reduction by hydrogen and methane. Model results indicate that microbial catalysis is generally fastest in the hottest habitable portion of the vent chimney (77–102 °C), and methane and sulfide oxidation peak near the seawater-side of the chimney. The fastest metabolisms are aerobic oxidation of H2 and sulfide and reduction of sulfate by H2 with maximum rates of 140, 900 and 800 pmol cm−3 d−1, respectively. The maximum rate of hydrogenotrophic methanogenesis is just under 0.03 pmol cm−3 d−1, the slowest of the metabolisms considered. Due to thermodynamic inhibition, there is no anaerobic oxidation of methane by sulfate (AOM). These simulations are consistent with vent chimney metabolic activity inferred from phylogenetic data reported in the literature. The model developed here provides a quantitative approach to describing the rates of biogeochemical transformations in hydrothermal systems and can be used to constrain the role of microbial activity in the deep subsurface.