Role of algal aggregation in vertical carbon export during SOIREE and in other low biomass environments

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Abstract

[1] Additions of iron to surface regions of the ocean have induced an increase in phytoplankton biomass, but do not necessarily trigger increases in carbon export from surface waters. Using new size-characterization of settling particles from the Southern Ocean Iron Release Experiment (SOIREE) and an extremely simple, mechanistic aggregation model, we show that removal of phytoplankton from surface waters via sedimentation was controlled by the formation of larger, faster sinking particles via coagulation. We demonstrate that in low biomass regions, where concentrations do not reach the critical concentration needed for massive sedimentation, carbon export is nevertheless still contingent upon the detailed mechanics of particle aggregation. There is therefore a direct dependence of export flux on the extent of aggregation during blooms, verification critical to the success of hydrodynamic models in predicting export.

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