Organic matter degradation causes enrichment of organic pollutants in hadal sediments

Anna Sobek*, Sebastian Abel, Hamed Sanei, Stefano Bonaglia, Zhe Li, Gisela Horlitz, Arka Rudra, Kazumasa Oguri, Ronnie N. Glud

*Corresponding author for this work

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Burial of persistent organic pollutants (POPs) such as polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) in deep-sea sediments contributes to 60% of their historical emissions. Yet, empirical data on their occurrence in the deep-ocean is scarce. Estimates of the deep-ocean POP sink are therefore uncertain. Hadal trenches, representing the deepest part of the ocean, are hotspots for organic carbon burial and decomposition. POPs favorably partition to organic carbon, making trenches likely significant sinks for contaminants. Here we show that PCBs occur in both hadal (7720-8085 m) and non-hadal (2560-4050 m) sediment in the Atacama Trench. PCB concentrations normalized to sediment dry weight were similar across sites while those normalized to sediment organic carbon increased exponentially as the inert organic carbon fraction of the sediment increased in degraded hadal sediments. We suggest that the unique deposition dynamics and elevated turnover of organic carbon in hadal trenches increase POP concentrations in the deepest places on Earth.

Original languageEnglish
Article number2012
JournalNature Communications
Issue number1
Number of pages9
Publication statusPublished - 10. Apr 2023

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