In the past 3 billion years, significant volumes of carbonate with high carbon-isotopic ([Formula: see text]C) values accumulated on shallow continental shelves. These deposits frequently are interpreted as records of elevated global organic carbon burial. However, through the stoichiometry of primary production, organic carbon burial releases a proportional amount of [Formula: see text], predicting unrealistic rises in atmospheric [Formula: see text] during the 1 to 100 million year-long positive [Formula: see text]C excursions that punctuate the geological record. This carbon-oxygen paradox assumes that the [Formula: see text]C of shallow water carbonates reflects the [Formula: see text]C of global seawater-dissolved inorganic carbon (DIC). However, the [Formula: see text]C of modern shallow-water carbonate sediment is higher than expected for calcite or aragonite precipitating from seawater. We explain elevated [Formula: see text]C in shallow carbonates with a diurnal carbon cycle engine, where daily transfer of carbon between organic and inorganic reservoirs forces coupled changes in carbonate saturation ([Formula: see text]) and [Formula: see text]C of DIC. This engine maintains a carbon-cycle hysteresis that is most amplified in shallow, sluggishly mixed waters with high rates of photosynthesis, and provides a simple mechanism for the observed [Formula: see text]C-decoupling between global seawater DIC and shallow carbonate, without burying organic matter or generating O2.
|Original language||English (US)|
|Number of pages||7|
|Journal||Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America|
|State||Published - Dec 3 2019|
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- carbon isotopes