The Lateral Flux of Biogenic Particles from the Eastern North-American Continental-Margin to the North-Atlantic Ocean

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Deep-Sea Research Part Ii-Topical Studies in Oceanography
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Sediment trap samples from two field programs on the continental margin of the northeast coast of the United States, which constituted the Shelf Edge Exchange Program (SEEP), were analyzed for phytoplankton taxonomic composition and the fluxes of organic carbon, nitrogen and opaline silica. The traps, with a rotating carousel collection system, were located on taut-wire moorings between 150 and 2700 m below the surface and extended from the 500 m isobath on the upper continental shelf to the 2750 m isobath at the edge of the abyssal plain of the western North Atlantic Ocean, The temporal and spatial distributions of phytoplankton in the azide-poisoned trap samples revealed a general increase of intact cells with depth, which is consistent with lateral transport from the margins to the ocean interior. Taxonomic analysis of the phytoplankton indicated that >90% of the intact cells (containing identifiable intracellular structures) consisted of diatoms. The distribution of the species further supports the lateral transport origin of the particles, and indicates that the particulate materials are delivered Co the ocean interior primarily in pulses of rapidly sinking aggregates. However, quantitative analysis suggests that intact phytoplankton contribute only 0.8 +/- 0.7% (mean and S.D.) and 0.9 +/- 0.7% of the total particulate carbon and nitrogen fluxes, respectively. Using silica-to-carbon ratios to budget the remaining trap organic carbon fluxes, it would appear that between 17 and 100% of the sedimenting particles were originally diatomaceous, but that the organic carbon became solubilized and/or oxidized in the water column during descent. A simple two-dimensional model was developed to quantify the contribution of the Bur of particulate organic carbon to the interior of the North Atlantic Ocean. The results suggest that north of Cape Hatteras, the mean lateral flux of particulate organic carbon sinking through the upper 500 m of the water column into the western edge of the basin is 4.8 x 10(12) g C y(-1), which is about 6% of the primary production on the shelf. This flux represents the lateral export of carbon from the continental margin to the interior of the North Atlantic Ocean. Based on estimates of vertical export production for the basin of about 4.2 x 10(14) g C y(-1), we estimate that the export of carbon from the western margin, north of Cape Hatteras, represents about 1% of the new production of the entire basin. This export is a significant source of energy which fuels the high benthic respiration on the continental dope.


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