Understanding the processes influencing the sources and fate of organic matter (OM) in estuaries is important for quantifying the contributions of carbon from land and rivers to the global carbon budget of the coastal ocean. Estuaries are sites of high OM production and processing, and understanding biogeochemical processes within these regions is key to quantifying organic carbon (C) budgets at the land-ocean margin. These regions provide vital ecological services, including nutrient filtration and protection from floods and storm surge, and provide habitat and nursery areas for numerous commercially important species. Human activities have modified estuarine systems over time, resulting in changes in the production, respiration, burial, and export of C. C in estuaries is derived from aquatic, terrigenous, and anthropogenic sources, with each source exhibiting a spectrum of ages and lability. The complex source and age characteristics of C in estuaries complicate our ability to trace OM along the river–estuary–coastal ocean continuum. This review focuses on the application of organic biomarkers and compound-specific isotope analyses to estuarine environments and on how these tools have enhanced our ability to discern natural sources of OM, trace their incorporation into food webs, and enhance understanding of the fate of C within estuaries and their adjacent waters.


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