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Attenuation of sinking particulate organic carbon flux through the mesopelagic ocean
Thursday, 2015/01/29 | 08:03:31

Chris M. Marsay, Richard J. Sanders, Stephanie A. Henson, Katsiaryna Pabortsava, Eric P. Achterberg, and Richard S. Lampitt




A key factor regulating the air−sea balance of carbon dioxide (CO2) is the sinking of particles containing organic carbon from the surface to the deep ocean. The depth at which this carbon is released back into the water (remineralization) has a strong influence on atmospheric CO2 concentration. Here we show a significant relationship between the remineralization depth of sinking organic carbon flux in the upper ocean and water temperature, with shallower remineralization in warmer waters. Our results contrast with data from deep-sea sediment traps, highlighting the importance of upper ocean remineralization to our understanding of the ocean’s biological carbon pump. Our results suggest that predicted future increases in ocean temperature will result in reduced CO2 storage by the oceans.




The biological carbon pump, which transports particulate organic carbon (POC) from the surface to the deep ocean, plays an important role in regulating atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) concentrations. We know very little about geographical variability in the remineralization depth of this sinking material and less about what controls such variability. Here we present previously unpublished profiles of mesopelagic POC flux derived from neutrally buoyant sediment traps deployed in the North Atlantic, from which we calculate the remineralization length scale for each site. Combining these results with corresponding data from the North Pacific, we show that the observed variability in attenuation of vertical POC flux can largely be explained by temperature, with shallower remineralization occurring in warmer waters. This is seemingly inconsistent with conclusions drawn from earlier analyses of deep-sea sediment trap and export flux data, which suggest lowest transfer efficiency at high latitudes. However, the two patterns can be reconciled by considering relatively intense remineralization of a labile fraction of material in warm waters, followed by efficient downward transfer of the remaining refractory fraction, while in cold environments, a larger labile fraction undergoes slower remineralization that continues over a longer length scale. Based on the observed relationship, future increases in ocean temperature will likely lead to shallower remineralization of POC and hence reduced storage of CO2 by the ocean.


See: http://www.pnas.org/content/112/4/1089.abstract.html?etoc

PNAS January 27, 2015 vol. 112 no. 4 1089-1094


Fig. 1.

(A) Bathymetry map of the North Atlantic showing the locations of four multiple PELAGRA trap deployments; (B) measured fluxes of POM, opal, CaCO3, and lithogenic material at each site; (C) corresponding measured POC fluxes at each site, with profiles fitted using Eq. 1 and extrapolated between 50 m and 1000 m depth. Error bars represent relative SD from replicate measurements and are generally smaller than symbols. POC flux plots show the calculated b value along with SE, r2 value, and P value.

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