Substantial kelp detritus exported beyond the continental shelf by dense shelf water transport

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Kelp forests may contribute substantially to ocean carbon sequestration, mainly through transporting kelp carbon away from the coast and into the deep sea. However, it is not clear if and how kelp detritus is transported across the continental shelf. Dense shelf water transport (DSWT) is associated with offshore flows along the seabed and provides an effective mechanism for cross-shelf transport. In this study, we determine how effective DSWT is in exporting kelp detritus beyond the continental shelf edge, by considering the transport of simulated sinking kelp detritus from a region of Australia’s Great Southern Reef. We show that DSWT is the main mechanism that transports simulated kelp detritus past the continental shelf edge, and that export is negligible when DSWT does not occur. We find that 51% per year of simulated kelp detritus is transported past the continental shelf edge, or 17–29% when accounting for decomposition while in transit across the shelf. This is substantially more than initial global estimates. Because DSWT occurs in many mid-latitude locations around the world, where kelp forests are also most productive, export of kelp carbon from the coast could be considerably larger than initially expected.

Original languageEnglish
Article number839
JournalScientific Reports
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 8 Jan 2024

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