Does a ballast effect occur in the surface ocean?



[1] The oceanic biological carbon pump (BCP), a large (10 GT C yr−1) component of the global carbon cycle, is dominated by the sinking (export) of particulate organic carbon (POC) from surface waters. In the deep ocean, strong correlations between downward fluxes of biominerals and POC (the so-called ‘ballast effect’) suggest a potential causal relationship, the nature of which remains uncertain. We show that similar correlations occur in the upper ocean with high rates of export only occurring when biominerals are also exported. Exported particles are generally biomineral rich relative to the upper ocean standing stock, due either to: (1) exported material being formed from the aggregation of a biomineral rich subset of upper ocean particles; or (2) the unfractionated aggregation of the upper ocean particulate pool with respiration then selectively removing POC relative to biominerals until particles are dense enough to sink.