The first experiment of the ECOMARGE programme (ECOsystemes de MARGE continentale) was initiated in 1983-1984, in the Gulf of Lions (northwestern Mediterranean Sea). The objectives of the ECOMARGE-I experiment were: to quantify the transfer of particulate matter, in general, and organic carbon, in particular, from its introduction to and formation in the waters of the continental shelf-to its consumption or sedimentation on the shelf or its transfer to the slope and deep sea; and to understand the processes involved in that transfer, consumption and sedimentation together with their variability in space and time. The results of that experiment, from 1983 to 1988, are presented in this Special Issue. The highlights of the results are summarised in this paper.These results indicate that, of the particles formed in the waters of the continental shelf and those introduced by rivers, some are deposited as sediments on the shelf. A portion is transported offshore, however, to the slope and deep sea. The Rhone River, in the northeastern part of the study area, is the major source of continental material; this is transported to sea in a benthic nepheloid layer and, mostly, alongshore to the southwest. Here, it largely leaves the shelf through the canyons, especially the Lacaze-Duthiers Canyon. In the offshore waters, particle concentrations and distributions show surficial, intermediate and benthic nepheloid layers. These turbid structures increase towards the southwest, corresponding to the seaward shift of the front between the coastal waters and the Liguro-Provencal cyclonic gyre, a major forcing function in the Gulf of Lions.Considering the source and fate of particles (largely biogenic from the euphotic zone and abiogenic from deeper waters) a layered system is described, which is emphasized by the concentrations of natural and artificial elements and compounds.
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