Sulfate distribution and sulfate reduction in global marine sediments

Bo Barker Jørgensen*, Matthias Egger, Donald E. Canfield

*Corresponding author for this work

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The quantification of anaerobic oxidation of organic matter in the global seabed is to a large extent based on transport-reaction modeling of pore water ions involved in the mineralization processes. As the predominant of these processes, sulfate reduction can be modeled from the depth distribution of sulfate and other relevant solutes. An active organoclastic sulfate reduction is typically characterized by sulfate profiles with a concave-down shape. We use here a comprehensive database to show that half of all competent sulfate profiles have an opposite, concave-up shape, which may appear inconsistent with this concept. We also show that there is a strong discrepancy between sulfate profiles obtained by gravity coring and by IODP coring, with generally much higher sulfate flux and shallower sulfate penetration depth in the gravity cores (the term IODP here covers the international ocean drilling programs, DSDP, ODP and IODP). The discrepancy is correlated with a selectivity for coring sites in the published studies, by which gravity coring is focused towards the ocean margins and continental shelf and towards high surface water productivity and high sedimentation rate. In contrast, IODP coring is more frequently done in low sedimentation regions and is largely absent from the continental shelf. As a result, estimates of sulfate reduction in the global seabed may be biased by a selection of only IODP core data for the modeling. Furthermore, the modeling of pore water profiles shows net rates of sulfate reduction, while 35S-radiotracer experiments show the higher gross rates of the process. Estimates from 35S-radiotracer measurements suggest that dissimilatory sulfate reduction oxidizes 77 Tmol yr−1 of organic carbon globally, which is 3- to 4-fold higher than recent data based on modeling of IODP data. The potential biases by global estimates of sulfate reduction in marine sediments are discussed.

Original languageEnglish
JournalGeochimica et Cosmochimica Acta
Pages (from-to)79-88
Number of pages10
Publication statusPublished - 1. Jan 2024


  • Anaerobic mineralization
  • Early diagenesis
  • Global budget
  • Gravity coring
  • IODP coring
  • Transport-reaction modeling


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