Rapid cycling of high-molecular-weight dissolved organic matter in the ocean
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DISSOLVED organic matter (DOM) in the ocean is one of the largest active reservoirs of organic carbon on Earth. It is important to understand the processes by which DOM is recycled, particularly as changes in the oceanic DOM pool could affect atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations on timescales of 1,000 to 10,000 years (ref. 1). It is commonly believed that low-molecular-weight material, which comprises 65-80% of DOM2-5, is rapidly remineralized, and that high-molecular-weight material is refractory. But the average age of DOM in the deep ocean is about 6,000 years (ref. 6) which implies that a large proportion of the DOM cycles only very slowly. Here we present a study of the relative bioavailability of low- and high-molecular weight DOM in water samples taken from the northern Gulf of Mexico during a diatom bloom. Bacterial growth and respiration in the presence of high-molecular-weight DOM were respectively three and six times greater than for low-molecular-weight material. Although both of these pools undoubtedly contain mixtures of compounds with varying reactivities and turnover times, our results demonstrate that the bulk of oceanic DOM comprises small molecules that cycle slowly and are relatively unavailabe to microorganisms. © 1994 Nature Publishing Group.
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