EGU General Assembly 2022
© Author(s) 2022. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

Long-term carbon transfers at the land-ocean interface: evidence from Loch Eriboll, northern Scotland

William Hiles, Craig Smeaton, and William Austin
William Hiles et al.
  • University of St Andrews, School of Geography and Sustainable Development, St Andrews, United Kingdom of Great Britain – England, Scotland, Wales (

Globally, fjords are recognised as hotspots for the burial and storage of organic carbon (OC). The role of fjords as nationally and globally important carbon sinks is now well established, yet the long-term drivers and evolution of OC burial and storage in these coastal systems remains largely unknown. The location of fjords at the land-ocean interface in combination with their geomorphology results in a large proportion of the OC that is trapped in their sediments deriving from the terrestrial environment, yet the processes driving the delivery of terrestrial carbon into fjords over long timescales is often poorly constrained. In order to better understand these important processes, an understanding of terrestrial landscape change in conjunction with sedimentological data for carbon storage is required. Understanding the drivers of the carbon transfer at the land-ocean interface throughout the mid- to late-Holocene can provide insights into the sensitivity of catchments to climatic and anthropogenic pressure, which will be crucial to predicting future carbon loss, burial and storage scenarios across the land-ocean interface.

We present a new multiproxy palaeoenvironmental dataset developed from a core from Loch Eriboll, a large fjord in northern Scotland, spanning the last 5,000 years. Pollen data, taken to represent catchment-scale vegetation change, is used to investigate landscape change in response to natural and anthropogenic forcing mechanisms. Sedimentological and geochemical data are then used to reconstruct changes in the delivery of carbon into the fjord system via soil erosion. Comparison of two age models, developed from bulk radiocarbon dating and dating of shells, respectively, provide data on the relative age of carbon being reworked from the terrestrial system into the fjord.

We present evidence for links between the terrestrial and fjord systems throughout the mid to late Holocene. Throughout the record is a consistent radiocarbon age offset of approximately 800 years in the bulk data, and increases in this offset coincide with marked changes in the terrestrial vegetation on three discrete occasions: a significant reduction in Pinus, an increase in herbaceous pollen, and an expansion of heathland pollen. Complemented by a suite of geochemical proxies, including inorganic and organic geochemical signatures, these datasets provide insights into the sensitivity of fjordic systems to changes in the adjacent terrestrial system on centennial timescales.

How to cite: Hiles, W., Smeaton, C., and Austin, W.: Long-term carbon transfers at the land-ocean interface: evidence from Loch Eriboll, northern Scotland, EGU General Assembly 2022, Vienna, Austria, 23–27 May 2022, EGU22-5152,, 2022.