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Slow-sinking particulate organic carbon in the Atlantic Ocean: magnitude, flux, and potential controls

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journal contribution
posted on 2023-05-19, 16:07 authored by Baker, CA, Henson, SA, Emma Cavan, Giering, SLC, Yool, A, Gehlen, M, Belcher, A, Riley, JS, Smith, HEK, Sanders, R
The remineralization depth of particulate organic carbon (POC) fluxes exported from the surface ocean exerts a major control over atmospheric CO₂ levels. According to a long-held paradigm most of the POC exported to depth is associated with large particles. However, recent lines of evidence suggest that slow-sinking POC (SSPOC) may be an important contributor to this flux. Here we assess the circumstances under which this occurs. Our study uses samples collected using the Marine Snow Catcher throughout the Atlantic Ocean, from high latitudes to midlatitudes. We find median SSPOC concentrations of 5.5 μg L−1, 13 times smaller than suspended POC concentrations and 75 times higher than median fast-sinking POC (FSPOC) concentrations (0.07 μg L−1). Export fluxes of SSPOC generally exceed FSPOC flux, with the exception being during a spring bloom sampled in the Southern Ocean. In the Southern Ocean SSPOC fluxes often increase with depth relative to FSPOC flux, likely due to midwater fragmentation of FSPOC, a process which may contribute to shallow mineralization of POC and hence to reduced carbon storage. Biogeochemical models do not generally reproduce this behavior, meaning that they likely overestimate long-term ocean carbon storage.


Publication title

Global Biogeochemical Cycles










Institute for Marine and Antarctic Studies


Amer Geophysical Union

Place of publication

2000 Florida Ave Nw, Washington, USA, Dc, 20009

Rights statement

Copyright 2017 the authors. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0)

Repository Status

  • Open

Socio-economic Objectives

Measurement and assessment of freshwater quality (incl. physical and chemical conditions of water)

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