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The flux of particles measured by sediment traps in the deep water of the Sargasso Sea and western tropical North Atlantic undergoes pronounced temporal variation. In the Sargasso Sea the variability is largely due to seasonal changes in mixed-layer depth and attendant changes in primary productivity affecting a wide region. By contrast, the variability in the western tropical Atlantic appears to be caused by patches of elevated nutrient and pigment concentrations which have their origin in the plumes of the Amazon and Orinoco rivers. Coastal zone color scanner scenes demonstrate the great seasonal and interannual differences in the direction and dispersal patterns of the plumes. The river plumes break up into irregular patches which may pass through the catchment area of a sediment trap at varying rates, thereby creating the impression of almost random temporal flux variability at a fixed trap site.