Date of Award

5-2008

Degree Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Science

Major

Geology

Major Professor

Linda C. Kah

Committee Members

Christopher M. Fedo, David B. Finkelstein

Abstract

Amino acid compositions, bulk organic carbon, total nitrogen, and total organic matter were measured for eight sediment samples from the Hauraki Gulf, New Zealand, in order to assess the source and fate of organic matter in a shallow marine environment. Samples were collected from near-shore and off-shore shore sites, as well as from a site receiving freshwater input from multiple rivers. A comparison of carbon, nitrogen, and amino acid compositions of samples between 1 cm depth (Uhle 2004) and 5 cm depth was used to assess changes in organic matter composition through time. Amino acid analyses in particular should be effective in deciphering organic decomposition through both the presence and abundance of amino acids.

C:N values, which range from 6.5-9.3, are typical for marine sediments and indicate that the primary source for organic matter is marine despite potential terrigenous input from the surrounding environment. This interpretation is supported by carbon isotopes (-20‰ and -22‰ for most sites) which is typical for marine-derived organic materials. C:N ratios do not appreciably vary from 1-5 cm depth, suggesting that there has not been significant depletion of organic matter in these young deposits. Furthermore, both D- and L-amino acids are present at 5 cm depth, supporting minimal organic matter decomposition. However, concentrations of amino acid decreases with depth, and the presence of D-alanine, D-aspartic acid, D-glutamic acid, glycine, and non-protein amino acids, at 5 cm depth, suggests at least a small contribution to the organic carbon source from bacteria. A decrease in δ15N with depth further suggests the possibility of bacterial reworking under anoxic conditions. Combined, these results support hypotheses of microbial reworking of organic matter through time, but are not clearly diagnostic of this process.

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