Transient physical forcing of pulsed export of bioreactive material to the deep Sargasso Sea Academic Article uri icon


  • Considerable attention has recently been focused on the role of eddies in affecting biogeochemical fluxes and budgets of the Sargasso Sea. In late November 1996, the Bermuda Testbed Mooring (BTM) and Bermuda Atlantic Time Series (BATS) shipboard sampling evidenced a fall phytoplankton bloom at the Bermuda time-series site which was strongly forced by the interplay between seasonal mixed layer destratification and perturbation of mixed layer dynamics due to passage of a warm mesoscale feature. The feature was characterized by clockwise current vector rotation from near the surface to about 200 m and a thick, warm, low salinity isothermal layer > 180 m in depth. Nutrients, chlorophyll fluorescence and pigment profiles indicated high primary production stimulated by enhancement of nutrient entrainment and intermittent deep mixing down to the base of the feature's isothermal layer. Nearly coincident with the arrival of this productive feature at the BTM site, the Oceanic Flux Program (OFP) sediment traps recorded an abrupt, factor of 2.5 increase in mass flux at 3200 m depth. Even more dramatic was the observed increase in flux of labile bioreactive organic matter. Fluxes of primary phytoplankton-derived compounds increased by factors of 7-30, bacteria-derived compounds by 6-9, and early degradation products of sterols by a factor of 10. The covariation of early degradation products and bacteria-derived compounds with phytoplankton-derived compounds indicated that the settling phytoplankton bloom material contained elevated bacterial populations and was undergoing active degradation when it entered the 3200 m trap cup. The increase in the flux of bulk components, especially the residual silicate fraction, and refractory organic compounds clearly preceded the main pulse of the labile, surface-derived phytoplankton organic material. The coincident increase in the flux of refractory and zooplankton-derived compounds suggests that in the initial stage of the deep flux event, the mass flux increased largely as a result of an increase in the flux of refractory materials scavenged from the water column and repackaged into sinking particles and increased zooplankton inputs. These results imply that biological reprocessing of flux material within the water column acts to enhance the coupling between the surface and deep ocean environments. Our results show that transient, upper ocean forcing associated with variable upper ocean physical structure - which includes but is not limited to eddies - and variable meteorological forcing can have an enormous effect on the export flux of bioreactive organic material. The importance of pulsed fluxes of bioreactive material arising from transient physical forcing to the long-term average is not presently known. However, the occurrence of episodic high flux events throughout the OFP time-series record (also inferred from BTM time-series) suggests that such forcing, regardless of specific dynamics, may be responsible for a significant fraction of the total export flux of bioreactive carbon and associated elements to the deep oligotrophic ocean. 2003 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.

published proceedings

  • Deep Sea Research Part I: Oceanographic Research Papers

altmetric score

  • 3

author list (cited authors)

  • Conte, M. H., Dickey, T. D., Weber, J. C., Johnson, R. J., & Knap, A. H.

citation count

  • 68

complete list of authors

  • Conte, MH||Dickey, TD||Weber, JC||Johnson, RJ||Knap, AH

publication date

  • October 2003