The global ocean flux of particulate organic carbon: Areal distribution and magnitude


  • Richard A. Jahnke


The magnitude and distribution of the particulate organic carbon (POC) rain rate to the seafloor in the Atlantic, Pacific and Indian Ocean basins between 61°N and 61°S has been estimated from benthic oxygen flux estimates (for water depths ≥ 1000 m only). The calculation utilizes the extensive data sets of sedimentary organic carbon, CaCO3, and accumulation rate to extrapolate between individual benthic flux measurement sites using an empirically-derived correlation between the seafloor oxygen flux and these parameters. The POC flux through the 1000 m depth horizon was then estimated from published correlations between sediment trap-determined fluxes and water depth. Total oxygen utilization in the deep ocean is estimated to be 1.2×1014 mol O2 yr−1, a value that agrees well with previous estimates which were based on surface water primary productivity, sediment trap, and depth relationships and with deep water respiration rates estimated from apparant oxygen utilization (AOU)-14C relationships. On the basis of the derived global ocean flux distribution, it is concluded that (1) dissolved organic carbon (DOC) inputs are not required to account for estimated deep water respiration rates; (2) the majority of the POC input to the deep ocean occurs within 30° of the equator; (3) the proportion of primary production that reaches the deep sea does not vary greatly with latitude; (4) gyre and continental margin regions contribute roughly equally to the deep POC flux with a relatively minor contribution from the equatorial divergence region; (5) of the estimated 7.2×1013 mol C yr−1 of POC that sinks below the 1000 m depth horizon, 45% (3.3×1013 mol C yr−1) reaches the seafloor where it is oxidized; (6) when normalized to basin area, average deep flux rates in the Atlantic and Pacific are similar while highest rates are observed in the Indian Ocean; and (7) the results can be fully reconciled only if the benthic flux of DOC is significantly less than the benthic O2 flux.