Global patterns of bioturbation intensity and mixed depth of marine soft sediments

L. R. Teal, M. T. Bulling, E. R. Parker, M. Solan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

158 Citations (Scopus)


The importance of bioturbation in mediating biogeochemical processes in the upper centimetres of oceanic sediments provides a compelling reason for wanting to quantify in situ rates of bioturbation. Whilst several approaches can be used for estimating the rate and extent of bioturbation, most often it is characterized by calculating an intensity coefficient (D-b) and/or a mixed layer depth (L). Using measures of D-b (n = 447) and L (n = 784) collated largely from peer-reviewed literature, we have assembled a global database and examined patterns of both L and Db. At the broadest level, this database reveals that there are considerable gaps in our knowledge of bioturbation for all major oceans other than the North Atlantic, and almost universally for the deep ocean. Similarly, there is an appreciable bias towards observations in the Northern Hemisphere, particularly along the coastal regions of North America and Europe. For the assembled dataset, we find large discrepancies in estimations of L and Db that reflect differences in boundary conditions and reaction properties of the methods used. Tracers with longer half-lives tend to give lower Db estimates and deeper mixing depths than tracers with shorter half-lives. Estimates of L based on sediment profile imaging are significantly lower than estimates based on tracer methods. Estimations of L, but not Db, differ between biogeographical realms at the global level and, at least for the Temperate Northern Atlantic realm, also at the regional level. There are significant effects of season irrespective of location, with higher activities (Db) observed during summer and deeper mixing depths (L) observed during autumn. Our evaluation demonstrates that we have reasonable estimates of bioturbation for only a limited set of conditions and regions of the world. For these data, and based on a conservative global mean (+/- SD) L of 5.75 +/- 5.67 cm (n = 791), we calculate the global volume of bioturbated sediment to be > 20 700 km(3). Whilst it is clear that the role of benthic invertebrates in mediating global ecosystem processes is substantial, the level of uncertainty at the regional level is unacceptably high for much of the globe.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)207-218
Number of pages12
JournalAquatic Biology
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2008


  • bioturbation
  • sediment mixed depth
  • bioturbation coefficient
  • global analysis
  • tracer
  • sediment profile imaging
  • deep-sea sediments
  • organic-matter
  • Northeast Atlantic
  • tracer technique
  • standing stock
  • Weddell Sea
  • in-situ
  • Antartica
  • profiles
  • rates


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