Jelly biomass sinking speed reveals a fast carbon export mechanism

Mario Lebrato, Pedro de Jesus Mendes, Deborah K. Steinberg, Joan E. Cartes, Bethan M. Jones, Laura M. Birsa, Roberto Benavides and Andreas Oschlies

Limnol. Oceanogr., 58(3), 2013, 1113-1122 | DOI: 10.4319/lo.2013.58.3.1113

ABSTRACT: Sinking of gelatinous zooplankton biomass is an important component of the biological pump removing carbon from the upper ocean. The export efficiency, e.g., how much biomass reaches the ocean interior sequestering carbon, is poorly known because of the absence of reliable sinking speed data. We measured sinking rates of gelatinous particulate organic matter (jelly-POM) from different species of scyphozoans, ctenophores, thaliaceans, and pteropods, both in the field and in the laboratory in vertical columns filled with seawater using high-quality video. Using these data, we determined taxon-specific jelly-POM export efficiencies using equations that integrate biomass decay rate, seawater temperature, and sinking speed. Two depth scenarios in several environments were considered, with jelly-POM sinking from 200 and 600 m in temperate, tropical, and polar regions. Jelly-POM sank on average between 850 and 1500 m d−1 (salps: 800–1200 m d−1; ctenophores: 1200–1500 m d−1; scyphozoans: 1000–1100 m d−1; pyrosomes: 1300 m d−1). High latitudes represent a fast-sinking and low-remineralization corridor, regardless of species. In tropical and temperate regions, significant decomposition takes place above 1500 m unless jelly-POM sinks below the permanent thermocline. Sinking jelly-POM sequesters carbon to the deep ocean faster than anticipated, and should be incorporated into biogeochemical and modeling studies to provide more realistic quantification of export via the biological carbon pump worldwide.

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