Role of slowly settling particles in the ocean carbon cycle

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Abstract

[1] Here we present results from sediment traps that separate particles as a function of their settling velocity, which were moored in the Canary Current region over a 1.5-year period. This study represents the longest time series using “in situ” particle settling velocity traps to date and are unique in providing year-round estimates. We find that, at least during half of the year in subtropical waters (the largest ocean domain), more than 60% of total particulate organic carbon is contained in slowly settling particles (0.7–11 m d−1). Analyses of organic biomarkers reveal that these particles have the same degradation state, or are even fresher than rapidly sinking particles. Thus, if slowly settling particles dominate the exportable carbon pool, most organic matter would be respired in surface waters, acting as a biological source of CO2 susceptible to exchange with the atmosphere. In the context of climate change, if the predicted changes in phytoplankton community structure occur, slowly settling particles would be favored, affecting the strength of the biological pump in the ocean.

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