The largest flux of terrigenous organic carbon into the ocean occurs in dissolved form by way of rivers. The fate of this material is enigmatic; there are numerous reports of conservative behavior over continental shelves, but the only knowledge we have about removal is that it occurs on long unknown time scales in the deep ocean. To investigate the removal process, we evaluated terrigenous dissolved organic carbon concentration gradients in the Beaufort Gyre of the western Arctic Ocean, which allowed us to observe the carbon's slow degradation. Using isotopic tracers of water-mass age, we determined that terrigenous dissolved organic carbon is mineralized with a half-life of 7.1 ± 3.0 years, thus allowing only 21 to 32% of it to be exported to the North Atlantic Ocean.
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