Surface suspended matter off western Africa: relations of organic matter, skeletal debris and detrital minerals*


  • *

    Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution Contribution No. 4288.


Components of suspended matter in surface waters between western Africa and the Mid-Atlantic Ridge were removed by filtration and measured by scanning electron and optical microscopy. Skeletal debris from diatoms, dinoflagellates, and other plankton are most concentrated in Antarctic surface water and in regions of coastal upwelling. Detrital mineral grains are most concentrated in nearshore regions, from discharge of major rivers, erosion of sea cliffs, and deposition from offshore winds. Farther offshore are high concentrations of mineral grains brought by trade winds from deserts in both northern and southern Africa. The winds also bring freshwater diatoms and woody tissue. The remaining component on the filters is marine organic matter, mostly in thin films. These films trap skeletal debris and mineral grains. Presumably, animals that graze upon the films further concentrate the grains into faecal pellets whose rapid settling carries the grains into deeper waters and to the bottom. The films were found in all other areas of the world ocean from which surface samples were spot-checked: off eastern Asia, off eastern North America, and the central Pacific. Thus they appear to be a major factor in marine sedimentation. In areas of upwelling off western Africa, the total suspended matter in surface waters averages about 0.1 mg/1 of filtrate, about five times that present in the open ocean. It consists of about 70% organic matter, 29.6% skeletal debris, and 0.4% mineral grains, in contrast with concentrations in the open ocean of 90%, 8% and 2%, respectively.