Ballast, sinking velocity, and apparent diffusivity within marine snow and zooplankton fecal pellets: Implications for substrate turnover by attached bacteria

Ploug, Helle, Morten Hvitfeldt Iversen, Gerhard Fischer

Limnol. Oceanogr., 53(5), 2008, 1878-1886 | DOI: 10.4319/lo.2008.53.5.1878

ABSTRACT: We analyzed size-specific dry mass, sinking velocity, and apparent diffusivity in field-sampled marine snow, laboratory-made aggregates formed by diatoms or coccolithophorids, and small and large zooplankton fecal pellets with naturally varying content of ballast materials. Apparent diffusivity was measured directly inside aggregates and large (millimeter-long) fecal pellets using microsensors. Large fecal pellets, collected in the coastal upwelling off Cape Blanc, Mauritania, showed the highest volume-specific dry mass and sinking velocities because of a high content of opal, carbonate, and lithogenic material (mostly Saharan dust), which together comprised ~80% of the dry mass. The average solid matter density within these large fecal pellets was 1.7 g cm-3, whereas their excess density was 0.25 ± 0.07 g cm-3. Volume-specific dry mass of all sources of aggregates and fecal pellets ranged from 3.8 to 960 µg mm-3, and average sinking velocities varied between 51 and 732 m d-1. Porosity was >0.43 and >0.96 within fecal pellets and phytoplankton-derived aggregates, respectively. Averaged values of apparent diffusivity of gases within large fecal pellets and aggregates were 0.74 and 0.95 times that of the free diffusion coefficient in sea water, respectively. Ballast increases sinking velocity and, thus, also potential O2 fluxes to sedimenting aggregates and fecal pellets. Hence, ballast minerals limit the residence time of aggregates in the water column by increasing sinking velocity, but apparent diffusivity and potential oxygen supply within aggregates are high, whereby a large fraction of labile organic carbon can be respired during sedimentation.

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