Carbon-cycle imbalances in the Sargasso Sea Academic Article uri icon


  • THE net exchange of carbon dioxide between the atmosphere and the ocean, and thus the nature of the oceanic carbon sink, is dominated by the seasonal dynamics of carbon cycling in the upper ocean. This cycle represents a balance between abiotic and biotic carbon transport into, and export out of, the ocean's upper layer. Here we report measurements of these processes made over five years in the Sargasso Sea off Bermuda, as part of the US Joint Global Ocean Flux Study (JGOFS). We find that the decrease in carbon stocks from the spring to the autumn in the upper 150 m of the ocean is three times larger than the measured sum of biotic and abiotic fluxes out of this layer. This discrepancy can be explained either by failure to account for horizontal advection of carbon or by inaccuracies in the fluxes of sinking particles as measured using sediment traps. Either the traps miss 80% of the sinking particles, or 70% of the carbon cycling is due to advection (or a combination of both processes is responsible). Sediment-trap measurements of the 234Th flux during this period suggest that most of the discrepancy may be due to inaccuracies in the trap methods, which would require a very general reassessment of existing ideas about particle export and remineralization of carbon in the oceans. If, on the other hand, advection is the main source of the discrepancy, the traditional one-dimensional (vertical) modelling of the oceanic carbon cycle cannot give a full account of carbon dynamics.

altmetric score

  • 3

author list (cited authors)

  • Michaels, A. F., Bates, N. R., Buesseler, K. O., Carlson, C. A., & Knap, A. H.

citation count

  • 196

publication date

  • December 1994

published in