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Black carbon (BC) is ubiquitous in pelagic sediments and presumed to have an older radiocarbon age due to long ocean residence times and pre-aging in terrestrial soils. Here, we analyzed sediments from five regions in the subtropical Atlantic Ocean to quantify the black carbon fraction of the total organic carbon pool. Black carbon, derived from the chemothermal oxidation method, comprised between 17 ± 6% of the sedimentary organic carbon in the Northwest Argentina Basin and 65 ± 18% in the Amazon Delta. Black carbon sediment accumulation rates were six times greater in the Sierra Leone Rise (8.4 ± 4.1 mg cm−2 kyr−1) compared to the remote Northwest Argentina Basin (1.3 ± 0.4 mg cm−2 kyr−1), possibly due to enhanced regional atmospheric deposition from annual African grassland fires. The radiocarbon age for BC from subtropical Atlantic sediments were more modern compared to the bulk total organic carbon, and BC source was apportioned as biomass burning byproducts from their stable carbon isotopic signatures and characteristic ratios of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons. This study demonstrated that subtropical Atlantic Ocean sediments serve as an important sink for young BC.

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Marine Chemistry