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Ballast minerals and the sinking carbon flux in the ocean: carbon-specific respiration rates and sinking velocities of macroscopic organic aggregates (marine snow)

Author(s): M. H. Iversen | H. Ploug

Journal: Biogeosciences Discussions
ISSN 1810-6277

Volume: 7;
Issue: 3;
Start page: 3335;
Date: 2010;
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Recent observations have shown that fluxes of ballast minerals (calcium carbonate, opal, and lithogenic material) and organic carbon fluxes are closely correlated in the bathypelagic zones of the ocean. Hence it has been hypothesized that incorporation of biogenic minerals within marine aggregates could either protect the organic matter from decomposition and/or increase the sinking velocity via ballasting of the aggregates. Here we present the first combined data on size, sinking velocity, carbon-specific respiration rate, and composition measured directly in three aggregate types; Emiliania huxleyi aggregates (carbonate ballasted), Skeletonema costatum aggregates (opal ballasted), and aggregates made from a mix of both E. huxleyi and S. costatum (carbonate and opal ballasted). Overall average carbon-specific respiration rate was ~0.13 d−1 and did not vary with aggregate type and size. Ballasting from carbonate resulted in 2- to 2.5-fold higher sinking velocities than aggregates ballasted by opal. We compiled literature data on carbon-specific respiration rate and sinking velocity measured in aggregate of different composition and sources. Compiled carbon-specific respiration rates (including this study) vary between 0.08 d−1 and 0.20 d−1. Sinking velocity increases with increasing aggregate size within homogeneous sources of aggregates. When compared across different particle and aggregate sources, however, sinking velocity appeared to be independent of particle or aggregate size. The calculated carbon remineralization length scale due to microbial respiration and sinking velocity of mm-large marine aggregates was higher for calcite ballasted aggregates as compared to opal-ballasted aggregates. It varied between 0.0002 m−1 and 0.0030 m−1, and decreased with increasing aggregate size.
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