The relative contribution of fast and slow sinking particles to ocean carbon export

J. S. Riley*, Richard J. Sanders, C. Marsay, Frédéric A. C. Le Moigne, Eric P. Achterberg, Alex J. Poulton

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

151 Citations (Scopus)


Particulate organic carbon (POC) generated by primary production and exported to depth, is an important pathway for carbon transfer to the abyss, where it is stored over climatically significant timescales. These processes constitute the biological carbon pump. A spectrum of particulate sinking velocities exists throughout the water column, however numerical models often simplify this spectrum into suspended, fast and slow sinking particles. Observational studies suggest the spectrum of sinking speeds in the ocean is strongly bimodal with >85% POC flux contained within two pools with sinking speeds of <10 m day -1 and >350 m day -1. We deployed a Marine Snow Catcher (MSC) to estimate the magnitudes of the suspended, fast and slow sinking pools and their fluxes at the Porcupine Abyssal Plain site (48°N, 16.5°W) in summer 2009. The POC concentrations and fluxes determined were 0.2μ g C L -1 and 54 mg C m -2 day -1 for fast sinking particles, 5μ g C L -1 and 92μ mg C m -2 day -1 for slow sinking particles and 97 g C L -1 for suspended particles. Our flux estimates were comparable with radiochemical tracer methods and neutrally buoyant sediment traps. Our observations imply: (1) biomineralising protists, on occasion, act as nucleation points for aggregate formation and accelerate particle sinking; (2) fast sinking particles alone were sufficient to explain the abyssal POC flux; and (3) there is no evidence for ballasting of the slow sinking flux and the slow sinking particles were probably entirely remineralised in the twilight zone.

Original languageEnglish
JournalGlobal Biogeochemical Cycles
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2012

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Global and Planetary Change
  • Environmental Chemistry
  • General Environmental Science
  • Atmospheric Science


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