A silicon isotopic perspective on the contribution of diagenesis to the sedimentary silicon budget in the Southern Ocean

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Diatoms are known to fractionate silicon isotopes during the formation of their frustules causing the silicon isotopic composition of biogenic silica to track the degree of silicic acid consumption in surface waters. Despite a growing body of work that uses this proxy to reconstruct past changes in silicic acid utilization, the understanding of the benthic silicon cycle, particularly the identification and quantification of the processes that potentially alter the silicon isotopic composition of biogenic silica during early diagenesis is still lacking. We investigated these processes by comparing the silicon isotopic composition of pore water silicic acid, biogenic silica and, for the first time, lithogenic silica from five sediment cores collected in the deep basin of the Southern Ocean representing a diversity of sedimentation regimes. Silicic acid concentrations and the isotopic composition of Southern Ocean pore waters were the result of a dynamic balance between the dissolution of biogenic silica, reactive lithogenic silica phases and Si re-precipitation with the relative importance of each processes differing significantly between regions. The results are consistent with the formation of authigenic alumino-silicates derived from dissolved biogenic silica in the Sub-Antarctic Zone and in the Antarctic Zone (on average 12 ± 5% and 17 ± 13%, respectively). Since this latter process can fractionate silicon isotopes, this implies that, even if the silicon isotopic composition of diatoms preserved in the sediments is a reliable proxy for silicic acid utilization in the past ocean, care must be taken to extract a clean biogenic silica phase free of authigenic clays and lithogenic phases from sediments to eliminate this potential bias when interpreting isotopic records.

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Geochimica et Cosmochimica Acta