Terrestrial Carbon Tracers

Oak leaf

Organic geochemists at BGS are currently using molecular tracers such as lignin, tannin and suberin to investigate how terrestrial biogeochemical components change in response to different physical drivers such as tides, storms, transport distance and salinity.

Estuarine environments

Estuaries are key environments linking land to sea. They receive terrestrial organic matter from the upstream and surrounding catchment and are the focus for accumulation, preservation and degradation processes that are an important part of the global organic carbon cycle.


Figure 1. Oak leaf lignin

Lignin is a highly cross-linked aromatic structural polymer virtually unique to terrestrial vascular plant tissues (including leaves). It is used by plants as natural scaffolding and is fairly resistant to degradation by microbes in the environment (Vane et al., 2006; Vane et al., 2003). These characteristics make it an ideal terrestrial carbon tracer, providing information on plant source origin, amount of terrestrial material and also residence time in soils, flood plain, coastal and marine deposits.

Further information

Vane, C H, Drage, T C and Snape, C E. 2006. Bark decay by the white-rot fungus Lentinula edodes: Polysaccharide loss, lignin resistance and the unmasking of suberin. International Biodeterioration and Biodegradation, 57, 14—23.

Vane, C H, Drage, T C and Snape, C E. 2003. Biodegradation of oak (Quercus alba) wood during growth of the Shiitake Mushroom (Lentinula edodes): a molecular approach. Journal of Agriculture and Food Chemistry: 51, 4, 947—956.


Please contact Dr Chris Vane for further information