Swept under the carpet: organic matter burial decreases global ocean biogeochemical model sensitivity to remineralization length scale
Abstract. Although of substantial importance for marine tracer distributions and eventually global carbon, oxygen, and nitrogen fluxes, the interaction between sinking and remineralization of organic matter, benthic fluxes and burial is not always represented consistently in global biogeochemical models. We here aim to investigate the relationships between these processes with a suite of global biogeochemical models, each simulated over millennia, and compared against observed distributions of pelagic tracers and benthic and pelagic fluxes.
We concentrate on the representation of sediment–water interactions in common numerical models, and investigate their potential impact on simulated global sediment–water fluxes and nutrient and oxygen distributions. We find that model configurations with benthic burial simulate global oxygen well over a wide range of possible sinking flux parameterizations, making the model more robust with regard to uncertainties about the remineralization length scale. On a global scale, burial mostly affects oxygen in the meso- to bathypelagic zone. While all model types show an almost identical fit to observed pelagic particle flux, and the same sensitivity to particle sinking speed, comparison to observational estimates of benthic fluxes reveals a more complex pattern, but definite interpretation is not straightforward because of heterogeneous data distribution and methodology. Still, evaluating model results against observed pelagic and benthic fluxes of organic matter can complement model assessments based on more traditional tracers such as nutrients or oxygen. Based on a combined metric of dissolved tracers and biogeochemical fluxes, we here identify two model descriptions of burial as suitable candidates for further experiments and eventual model refinements.