Molecular biomarker evidence of origins and transport of organic matter in sediments of the Pearl River estuary and adjacent South China Sea
Surface sediments from the subtropical Pearl River estuary and adjacent South China Sea were investigated by molecular organic geochemical methods to determine the composition, distribution and origin of extractable lipids (n-alkanes, n-alkanols and sterols). The absolute and organic C normalized concentrations of total alkane, n-alkanol, and sterol ranged from 0.16 to 2.67 μg g−1 and 0.9 to 12.3 μg g−1 OC, 24.4 to 427.3 ng g−1 and 63.2 to 1966.7 ng g−1 OC, and 9.0 to 493.5 ng g−1 and 58.4 to 1042.4 ng g−1 OC, respectively. The spatial distributions of these biomarkers indicated that terrestrial-derived molecular biomarkers such as long-chain n-alkanes, n-alkanols and plant-derived sterols were higher at the river mouth and along the coastline, suggesting that a higher proportion of terrestrial particulate organic matter was deposited there. Relatively lower amounts of marine-derived biomarkers such as short-chain n-alkanes, algal sterols at the river mouth reflected the lower primary productivity due to high turbidity. The spatial patterns of these biomarkers were partially related to the estuarine processes and conditions, evidencing an increased terrestrial signal from the Pearl River mouth to the inner estuary, and enhanced marine conditions further offshore.