Detrital carbonate minerals in Earth's element cycles

G. Müller, Janine Börker, Appy Sluijs, Jack J. Middelburg

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


We investigate if the commonly neglected riverine detrital carbonate fluxes might reconciliate several chemical mass balances of the global ocean. Particulate inorganic carbon (PIC) concentrations in riverine suspended sediments, that is, carbon contained by these detrital carbonate minerals, were quantified at the basin and global scale. Our approach is based on globally representative data sets of riverine suspended sediment composition, catchment properties, and a two-step regression procedure. The present-day global riverine PIC flux is estimated at 3.1 ± 0.3 Tmol C/y (13% of total inorganic carbon export and 4% of total carbon export) with a flux-weighted mean concentration of 0.26 ± 0.03 wt%. The flux prior to damming was 4.1 ± 0.5 Tmol C/y. PIC fluxes are concentrated in limestone-rich, rather dry and mountainous catchments of large rivers near Arabia, South East Asia, and Europe with 2.2 Tmol C/y (67.6%) discharged between 15°N and 45°N. Greenlandic and Antarctic meltwater discharge and ice-rafting additionally contribute 0.8 ± 0.3 Tmol C/y. This amount of detrital carbonate minerals annually discharged into the ocean implies a significant contribution of calcium (∼4.75 Tmol Ca/y) and alkalinity fluxes (∼10 Tmol (eq)/y) to marine mass balances and moderate inputs of strontium (∼5 Gmol Sr/y) based on undisturbed riverine and cryospheric inputs and a dolomite/calcite ratio of 0.1. Magnesium fluxes (∼0.25 Tmol Mg/y), mostly hosted by less-soluble dolomite, are rather negligible. These unaccounted fluxes help in elucidating respective marine mass balances and potentially alter conclusions based on these budgets. 
Original languageEnglish
Article numbere2021GB007231
Pages (from-to)1-19
JournalGlobal Biogeochemical Cycles
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - May 2022


  • alkalinity
  • biogeochemical cycling
  • calcium
  • detrital carbonate
  • particulate inorganic carbon
  • river sediment


Dive into the research topics of 'Detrital carbonate minerals in Earth's element cycles'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this