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Keywords:

  • Adriatic Sea;
  • Ligurian Sea;
  • mucilage;
  • particulate organic carbon;
  • sediment trap;
  • vertical stability

Abstract

The DYFAMED sediment trap station in the Ligurian Sea (NW Mediterranean) has been active since 1986 and today comprises the longest time-series of downward particle flux in the Mediterranean Sea. As such, it provides valuable information on the interannual variability of the particle flux, and also documents possible recent changes in the NW Mediterranean pelagic ecosystems. We report an unprecedented episode of downward flux of mucilaginous material at the DYFAMED station during summer 2002 in association with singular hydrometeorological conditions. The rain of mucilaginous aggregates clogged a PPS5 sediment trap at 260 m depth and was also clearly detected at 1080 m depth. The possible factors governing the development and sinking of the mucilaginous material are discussed. A very sharp increase of sea surface temperature during June and the presence of freshened waters in the surface the following month resulted in a stronger than usual stratification of the upper water column throughout the summer season. We suggest that the steepness of the vertical density gradient was responsible for the unusual accumulation of mucous aggregates. Additionally, a diatom bloom took place during the nutrient-depleted conditions typical of summer, a factor which may have contributed to feed the pycnocline with transparent exopolymer substances. A storm occurring in the beginning of August relaxed the stratification and promoted the deposition of the mucilaginous aggregates accumulated in the upper water column during the preceding months. Important similarities of ambient conditions preceding the apparition of mucilaginous material in our open-sea site and those reported in the Adriatic Sea during major mucilage events, suggest that general climatic conditions, rather than local factors, drive the occurrence of major accumulations of mucilaginous material in the water column at both sub-basins of the Mediterranean Sea. In this regard, the strength of the air temperature increase during the onset of the stratified season is proposed as a major controlling factor.