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Survival of graphitized petrogenic organic carbon through multiple erosional cycles

Sparkes, Robert B, Hovius, Niels, Galy, Albert and Liu, James T (2019) Survival of graphitized petrogenic organic carbon through multiple erosional cycles. Earth and Planetary Science Letters. p. 115992. ISSN 0012-821X

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Abstract

Graphite forms the endpoint for organic carbon metamorphism; it is extremely resilient to physical, biological and chemical degradation. Carbonaceous materials (CM) contained within sediments, collected across Taiwan and from the Gaoping submarine canyon, were analyzed using Raman spectroscopy to determine the crystallinity. This allowed the erosional and orogenic movements of petrogenic organic carbon (OCpetro) during the Taiwanese orogeny to be deduced. After automatically fitting and classifying spectra, the distribution of four groups of CM within the sediments provides evidence that many forms of OCpetro have survived at least one previous cycle of erosion, transport and burial before forming rocks in the Western Foothills of the island. There is extensive detrital graphite present in rocks that have not experienced high-grade metamorphism, and graphite flakes are also found in recently deposited marine sediments off Taiwan. The tectonic and geological history of the island shows that these graphite flakes must have survived at least three episodes of recycling. Therefore, transformation to graphite during burial and orogeny is a mechanism for stabilizing organic carbon over geological time, removing biospheric carbon from the active carbon cycle and protecting it from oxidation during future erosion events.

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