Transformations of Biogenic Particles during Sedimentation in the Northeastern Atlantic
The vertical flux and transformation of biogenic particles are important processes in the oceanic carbon cycle. Changes in the magnitude of the biological pump can occur in the north eastern Atlantic on both a seasonal and interannual basis. For example, seasonal variations in vertical flux at 47 degrees N 20 degrees W are linked to seasonal ocean productivity variations such as the spring bloom. The size and organic and inorganic content of phytoplankton species, their development and succession also play a role in the scale and composition of the biological pump. The majority of flux is in the form of fast sinking aggregates. Bacteria and transparent exopolymer particle production by phytoplankton have been implicated in aggregate production and mass flux events. Zooplankton grazing and faecal pellet production, their size and composition and extent of their vertical migration also influence the magnitude of vertical flux. Aggregates are formed in the upper ocean, often reaching a maximum concentration just below the seasonal thermocline and can be a food resource to mesozooplankton as well as to the high concentrations of attached bacteria and protozoa. Attached bacteria remineralize and solubilize the aggregate particulate organic carbon. The degree of particle solubilization is likely to be affected by factors controlling enzyme activity and production, for example temperature, pressure or concentration of specific organic molecules, all of which may change during sinking. Attached bacterial growth is greatest on particulate organic matter collected at 500 m which is the depth where studies of 210Po reveal that there is greatest break-up of rapidly sinking particles. Break-up of particles by feeding zooplankton can also occur. The fraction of sinking POC lost between 150-3100 m at one station in the north eastern Atlantic could supply about 90% of the bacterial carbon demand. Some larger, faster sinking aggregates escape solubilization and disaggregation in the upper 1000 m and arrive in the deep ocean and on the deep-sea bed. Seasonally varying rates of sedimentation are reflected at the deep-sea floor by deposition of phytodetrital material in summer. Approximately 2-4% of surface water primary production reaches the sea floor in 4500 m depth at 47 degrees N 20 degrees W after a sedimentation time of about 4-6 weeks. In this region, concentrations of chloroplastic pigments increased in summer by an order of magnitude, whereas seasonal changes in activity or biomass parameters were smaller. Breakdown of the generally strongly degraded organic matter deposited on deep-sea sediments is mainly accomplished by bacteria. Rates of degradation and efficiency of biomass production depend largely on the proportion of biologically labile material which decreases with advancing decay. It is likely that different levels of organic matter deposition influence the bioturbation rates of larger benthos, which has an effect on transport processes within the sediment and presumably also on microbial degradation rates.
Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London Series B
- Pub Date:
- May 1995