Articles | Volume 12, issue 1
Research article
13 Jan 2015
Research article |  | 13 Jan 2015

Upper ocean mixing controls the seasonality of planktonic foraminifer fluxes and associated strength of the carbonate pump in the oligotrophic North Atlantic

K. H. Salmon, P. Anand, P. F. Sexton, and M. Conte

Abstract. Oligotrophic regions represent up to 75% of Earth's open-ocean environments. They are thus areas of major importance in understanding the plankton community dynamics and biogeochemical fluxes. Here we present fluxes of total planktonic foraminifera and 11 planktonic foraminifer species measured at the Oceanic Flux Program (OFP) time series site in the oligotrophic Sargasso Sea, subtropical western North Atlantic Ocean. Foraminifera flux was measured at 1500 m water depth, over two ~ 2.5-year intervals: 1998–2000 and 2007–2010. We find that foraminifera flux was closely correlated with total mass flux, carbonate and organic carbon fluxes. We show that the planktonic foraminifera flux increases approximately 5-fold during the winter–spring, contributing up to ~ 40% of the total carbonate flux. This was primarily driven by increased fluxes of deeper-dwelling globorotaliid species, which contributed up to 90% of the foraminiferal-derived carbonate during late winter–early spring. Interannual variability in total foraminifera flux, and in particular fluxes of the deep-dwelling species (Globorotalia truncatulinoides, Globorotalia hirsuta and Globorotalia inflata), was related to differences in seasonal mixed layer dynamics affecting the strength of the spring phytoplankton bloom and export flux, and by the passage of mesoscale eddies. As these heavily calcified, dense carbonate tests of deeper-dwelling species (3 times denser than surface dwellers) have greater sinking rates, this implies a high seasonality of the biological carbonate pump in oligotrophic oceanic regions. Our data suggest that climate cycles, such as the North Atlantic Oscillation, which modulates nutrient supply into the euphotic zone and the strength of the spring bloom, may also in turn modulate the production and flux of these heavily calcified deep-dwelling foraminifera by increasing their food supply, thereby intensifying the biological carbonate pump.

Short summary
Planktonic foraminifera are an important component of the marine carbon/carbonate cycle, yet the environmental controls on their abundances are still debated. In our study, we see larger foraminifera fluxes, particularly of heavy species, during winter when nutrients are mixed into the surface waters or during eddy mixing. Climatic factors that control mixing could therefore control the flux of planktonic foraminfera and the carbon/carbonate flux on seasonal and decadal timescales.
Final-revised paper