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Particle size, Particle settling, Carbon cycle, Sediment traps, Mesopelagic zone


Carbon and nutrients are transported out of the surface ocean and sequestered at depth by sinking particles. Sinking particle sizes span many orders of magnitude and the relative influence of small particles on carbon export compared to large particles has not been resolved. To determine the influence of particle size on carbon export, the flux of both small (11–64 μm) and large (> 64 μm) particles in the upper mesopelagic was examined during 5 cruises of the Bermuda Atlantic Time Series (BATS) in the Sargasso Sea using neutrally buoyant sediment traps mounted with tubes containing polyacrylamide gel layers and tubes containing a poisoned brine layer. Particles were also collected in surface-tethered, free-floating traps at higher carbon flux locations in the tropical and subtropical South Atlantic Ocean. Particle sizes spanning three orders of magnitude were resolved in gel samples, included sinking particles as small as 11 μm. At BATS, the number flux of small particles tended to increase with depth, whereas the number flux of large particles tended to decrease with depth. The carbon content of different sized particles could not be modeled by a single set of parameters because the particle composition varied across locations and over time. The modeled carbon flux by small particles at BATS, including all samples and depths, was 39 ± 20% of the modeled total carbon flux, and the percentage increased with depth in 4 out of the 5 months sampled. These results indicate that small particles (< 64 μm) are actively settling in the water column and are an important contributor to carbon flux throughout the mesopelagic. Observations and models that overlook these particles will underestimate the vertical flux of organic matter in the ocean.

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Marine Chemistry