Royal Netherlands Institute for Sea Research

Tracing the transport of terrestrial soil membrane lipids through a major river system (Yenisei, Russia) to the Arctic Ocean

Global climate change is a topic of major interest as it has a large impact on human societies. Computer models used to predict directions of future climate change are validated by means of retrospective analysis of past climate changes. Detailed reconstruction of past climates, especially temperature, is, therefore, of considerable importance.

MBT index: a novel proxy 

Several tools (proxies) are available to reconstruct absolute sea surface temperatures. Continental temperature reconstructions, however, are hampered by a lack of quantitative temperature proxies and, consequently, are often qualitative rather than quantitative. Recently, we discovered a new quantitative continental temperature proxy, the MBT index, which is based on the distribution of membrane lipids of soil bacteria. Their composition is a function of annual mean air temperature (MAT). These lipids are transported by rivers to the ocean and deposited in marine sediments.

Satellite image of the Ob River Mouth, the Khalmyer Bay and Yenisei River Mouth, showing the increase in sediment load in the Khalmyer Bay and Yenisei Gulf that can be related to coastal cliff erosion (from: De Jonge et al. 2015, Geochimica et Cosmochimica Acta 174).

Testing MBT index in contrasting settings

Determination of the MBT index in sediment cores from river fans can, thus, potentially be used to reconstruct continental, river basin-integrated, temperatures from a marine record in front of large river outflows. This concept needs to be further tested in geographically contrasting settings before it can be applied with confidence.

Here, we perform a detailed study on the sources of soil GDGTs, mode of transport, and deposition in the Yenisei River and Kara Sea (Arctic Ocean) system. The Yenisei is one of the largest rivers in the world and its drainage basin covers different climatic zones and biomes (tundra, taiga/boreal forest). We sample soils from the drainage basin, river particulate matter, and river and Kara Sea sediments and analyze them for GDGTs. This provides detailed insight in how the climate signal stored in the composition of soil GDGTs are transported to the ocean and how mixing and diagenetic processes affect this. We also study the radiocarbon age of the soil GDGTs transported to the ocean and study Holocene changes in the delivery of these components to the shelf of the Arctic Ocean. Ground-truthing the use of the MBT-proxy opens up new windows in palaeoclimatological research and thus contributes to the improvement of current climate models.

Project information
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Netherlands Organization for S…
6 Jan 2010 - 7 Jul 2016

Meet the team

Sinninghe Damsté, Jaap
Head of Scientific Department

Linked publications

  • 2016
    de Jonge, C.; Stadnitskaia, Alina; Cherkashov, G.; Sinninghe Damsté, J.S. (2016). Branched glycerol dialkyl glycerol tetraethers and crenarchaeol record post-glacial sea level rise and shift in source of terrigenous brGDGTs in the Kara Sea (Arctic Ocean). Org. Geochem. 92: 42-54.
    de Jonge, C.; Talbot, H.M.; Bischoff, J.; Cherkashov, G.; Sinninghe Damsté, J.S. (2016). Bacteriohopanepolyol distribution in Yenisei River and Kara Sea suspended particulate matter and sediments traces terrigenous organic matter input. Geochim. Cosmochim. Acta 174: 85–101.
  • 2015
    de Jonge, C. (2015). Sources and sinks of branched tetraether lipids and bacteriohopanepolyols in a major river system (Yenisei River – Kara Sea: Implications for their application as geochemical tracers. PhD Thesis. Universiteit Utrecht (UU): Utrecht. ISBN 978-94-6203-808-0. 254 pp.
    De Jonge, C.; Stadnitskaia, A.; Fedotov, A.; Sinninghe Damsté, J.S. (2015). Impact of riverine suspended particulate matter on the branched glycerol dialkyl glycerol tetraether composition of lakes: The outflow of the Selenga River in Lake Baikal (Russia). Org. Geochem. 83-84: 241-252.
    De Jonge, C.; Stadnitskaia, A.; Hopmans, E.C.; Cherkashov, G.; Fedotov, A.; Streletskaya, I.D.; Vasiliev, A.A.; Sinninghe Damsté, J.S. (2015). Drastic changes in the distribution of branched tetraether lipids in suspended matter and sediments from the Yenisei River and Kara Sea (Siberia): Implications for the use of brGDGT-based proxies in coastal marine sediment. Geochim. Cosmochim. Acta 165: 200-225.
  • 2014
    De Jonge, C.; Hopmans, E.C.; Zell, C.; Kim, J.H.; Schouten, S.; Sinninghe Damsté, J.S. (2014). Occurrence and abundance of 6-methyl branched glycerol dialkyl glycerol tetraethers in soils: Implications for palaeoclimate reconstruction. Geochim. Cosmochim. Acta 141: 97–112.
    De Jonge, C.; Stadnitskaia, A.; Hopmans, E.C.; Cherkashov, G.; Fedotov, A.; Sinninghe Damsté, J. (2014). In situ produced branched glycerol dialkyl glycerol tetraethers in suspended particulate matter from the Yenisei River, Eastern Siberia. Geochim. Cosmochim. Acta 125: 476-491.