Several recent lines of literature point toward strong photoreactivity of phytoplanktonic detritus. We examined effects of irradiation of algal membrane fragments in various stages of decay, with emphasis on transfer of materials from solid to dissolved phase (photodissolution). After simulated solar irradiation for 24 h, up to several tens of percent of particulate organic matter converted to photodissolved organic matter (PDOM). Prior microbial decay enhanced PDOM production. PDOM had initially high C:N ratios, which decreased with irradiation time. Dissolved organic nitrogen dominated nitrogen photodissolution, followed by minor photoammonification and negligible nitrite plus nitrate production. Chromophoric particulate organic matter bleached at visible wavelengths and underwent dissolution, creation, and bleaching at ultraviolet (UV) wavelengths, resulting in net loss of color in particulates and net gain of largely UV-absorbing PDOM that also exhibited humic-type fluorescence. Solid phase proteinaceous material became less accessible to proteases after microbial decay but regained this accessibility upon irradiation. Irradiation under anoxic conditions roughly halved production of PDOM, including chromophores and humic fluorophores. Oxygen enhancement of these reactions, along with production of peroxides, implies a strong role for photosensitization. Pigments, unsaturated lipids, and tryptophan emerged as likely sources of reactive oxygen species. Lipid peroxides appeared as a reactive intermediate product. If these reactions in the ocean scale to pigment loss as found in our experiments, at least 5-15% of particulate organic matter could undergo photodissolution before settling in some planktonic environments. This photodissolution would enhance remineralization by photic zone microbial communities and thus upper ocean elemental recycling.
Limnology and Oceanography
Mayer, L.M., L.L. Schick, K.R. Hardy, M. L. Estapa, 2009. Photodissolution and other photochemical changes upon irradiation of algal detritus. Limnology and Oceanography, 54: 1688-1698.