Water column distribution and carbon isotopic signal of cholesterol, brassicasterol and particulate organic carbon in the Atlantic sector of the Southern Ocean
Abstract. The combination of concentrations and δ13C signatures of Particulate Organic Carbon (POC) and sterols provides a powerful approach to study ecological and environmental changes in both the modern and ancient ocean. We applied this tool to study the biogeochemical changes in the modern ocean water column during the BONUS-GoodHope survey (February–March 2008) from Cape Basin to the northern part of the Weddell Gyre. Cholesterol and brassicasterol were chosen as ideal biomarkers of the heterotrophic and autotrophic carbon pools, respectively, because of their ubiquitous and relatively refractory nature.
We document depth distributions of concentrations (relative to bulk POC) and δ13C signatures of cholesterol and brassicasterol combined with CO2 aq. surface concentration variation. While the relationship between CO2 aq. and δ13C of bulk POC and biomarkers have been reported by others for the surface water, our data show that this persists in mesopelagic and deep waters, suggesting that δ13C signatures of certain biomarkers in the water column could be applied as proxies for surface water CO2 aq. We observed a general increase in sterol δ13C signatures with depth, which is likely related to a combination of particle size effects, selective feeding on larger cells by zooplankton, and growth rate related effects. Our data suggest a key role of zooplankton fecal aggregates in carbon export for this part of the Southern Ocean (SO). Additionally, in the southern part of the transect south of the Polar Front (PF), the release of sea-ice algae during the ice demise in the Seasonal Ice Zone (SIZ) is hypothesized to influence the isotopic signature of sterols in the open ocean. Overall, the combined use of δ13C values and concentrations measurements of both bulk organic C and specific sterols throughout the water column offers the promising potential to explore the recent history of plankton and the fate of organic matter in the SO.