Virginia Institute of Marine Science
Large river deltas serve as globally important archives of terrestrial and shallow marine biogeochemical signatures and because of rapid sedimentation have the potential to impact global biogeochemical cycling. The Ayeyarwady Delta in Myanmar ranks as the world's third largest river delta in terms of sediment supply; however, modern increases in regional anthropogenic impacts risk severe alteration to sediment and TerrOC loads within this major system. By investigating modern sediment and terrestrial organic carbon (TerrOC) accumulation within the offshore Ayeyarwady Delta this study estimates baseline sediment and TerrOC budgets for this understudied mega-delta. Using 210Pb geochronology of 27 sediment cores collected from the continental shelf, we estimate that 405 (+52/-47) Mt of sediment, or ~70-80% of fluvial sediment discharged from the Ayeyarwady and Thanlwin rivers (the main inputs to the delta), accumulates there annually. Sediment not retained on the shelf is likely partitioned between the Ayeyarwady floodplain, shoreline accretion, and minor deep-sea export. Estimates of TerrOC (based on δ13C mixing models) were coupled with modern sediment accumulation rates to determine an annual burial of 1.93 (+1.09/-0.15) Mt C on the shelf, with TerrOC burial fluxes being highest in the foreset beds of the subaqueous delta, coincident with the area of highest sediment accumulation rate. Based on estimates of the Ayeyarwady and Thanlwin rivers' TerrOC delivery, an apparent ~100% of TerrOC input is preserved on the continental shelf. However, an across shelf trend of increasing TerrOC degradation with distance offshore is also observed, indicating that while the shelf has high apparent TerrOC sequestration, carbon remineralization is also occurring prior to deposition within the subaqueous delta. Based on these conflicting outcomes, we suggest that input of TerrOC from additional sources other than the Ayeyarwady and Thanlwin rivers roughly balance the observed carbon remineralization. Main additional sources of TerrOC include the Sittang and several smaller rivers, and the Ayeyarwady delta plain below the river gauging station. As anthropogenic development within the Ayeyarwady and Thanlwin watersheds continues to increase, these sediment and TerrOC budgets provide a baseline from which future changes within the offshore Ayeyarwady Delta can be monitored.
Andaman Sea; Ayeyarwady Delta; Ayeyarwady River; Myanmar; Organic carbon; Sediment budget
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Flynn, Evan R.; Kuehl, S.; Harris, Courtney K.; and Fair, Matthew J., Sediment and terrestrial organic carbon budgets for the offshore Ayeyarwady Delta, Myanmar: Establishing a baseline for future change (2022). Marine Geology, 447, 106782.