Terrestrial organic carbon (OC) could be transported to marginal oceans by large rivers and deposited under different hydrological conditions. A mixture of the fresh & lithospheric OC, superimposed by the OC from different rivers, makes it challenging to distinguish sources and contributions of terrestrial OC. Here, we employed multiple geochemical proxies, including the hydrogen isotopic composition of leaf wax (δDwax), the carbon isotopic composition of total organic carbon (δ13Corg), TOC/TN ratio, and major element distributions, to investigate the variability in sources of terrestrial OC in the Yangtze River Estuary (YRE) since 1270 CE. Our results revealed that the terrestrial OC deposition in the YRE was lower before 1950 CE and considerably increased after 1950 CE. The δDwax record in core A3 indicates that the OC deposition in the YRE was primarily modulated by the variability of El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO) and East Asia Summer Monsoon. The strengthened El Niño-like state since 1600 CE resulted in increased precipitation in the middle and lower reaches of the Yangtze River basin and in turn, affected the terrestrial OC deposition in the YRE. Several episodes with lower carbon preference index (CPI) values of n-alkanes (CPI < 3) were identified. These episodes were concurrent with the streamflow shift of the ancient Yellow River during the transitions from wet to dry conditions, highlighting the potential contribution of the ancient Yellow River to the aged OC deposition in the YRE.

Contributions of the Yangtze River and Yellow River to terrestrial organic carbon deposition in the Yangtze River Estuary during the last 700 years