PhD student: Elsa Stetten, thesis director : François Baudin (ISteP), adjunc director : Audrey Pruski
Thesis defended lthe 24th of november 2015

The terminal lobe complex of the Congo deep-sea fan, which is a unique region to study the transfer of organic matter from the land to the Atlantic Ocean, is located 760 km off the Equatorial African coast and at 5,000 m depth. This region covers 3000 km2 and is the terminal receptacle of the particulate organic matter provided by turbidity currents originating from the Congo River canyon. This thesis is part of the Congolobe ANR-project and aims at providing information on the biogeochemical composition of these organic matter inputs to study their origin, distribution and fate in lobe complex sediments. Nine short sediment cores (~20 cm) and one long core (~900 cm) were collected in different sites of the lobes complex for different sediment analyses. The strategy of the study consists of the following five analytical steps: (1) to achieve a facies and granulometry description of the sediments; (2) to study the global and molecular geochemical characteristics of the sediments (%OC , C/N, δ13Corg, δ15N, 137Cs, fatty acids and tetraethers); (3) to compare these data to data from marine and terrestrial end-members using a binary mixing model (δ13Corg) and a discriminant analysis (fatty acids); (4) to consider a specific site as a time reference and (5) to discuss the fate of the sedimentary organic matter at the millennium time scale of the overall area by combining different data in a multivariate analysis. All the different proxies used in this study revealed that lobe sediments could be a sink for organic inputs from the Congo River. Organic carbon concentrations are high in silty-clay sediments (~3 to 5 %). Over the study region, 70 to 80 % of the organic carbon originate from the Congo River and consist of vegetal detritus and soil derived-OM. The remaining 20 to 30 % consists of highly degraded organic matter. A more detailed lipid biomarker analysis shows that the organic matter is poorly reactive; however, fatty acid analyses reveal the presence of fresh planktonic compounds in some samples. An important finding of this study is that the composition and the distribution of the organic matter in sediments are consistent with turbiditic deposition patterns (e.g., rapidity of transfer, frequency and thickness of deposits) as well as with the granulometry properties of the sediments from the terminal lobe complex. Due to the specific sediment characteristics, organic matter is exceptionally well preserved in the anoxic sediment layers, reaching back to millennial time scales. Hence, studying the lobe complex area is of great interest for a better understanding of the fate of terrestrial organic matter in the global ocean.