Technical note: Sampling and processing of mesocosm sediment trap material for quantitative biogeochemical analysis
Abstract. Sediment traps are the most common tool to investigate vertical particle flux in the marine realm. However, the spatial and temporal decoupling between particle formation in the surface ocean and particle collection in sediment traps at depth often handicaps reconciliation of production and sedimentation even within the euphotic zone. Pelagic mesocosms are restricted to the surface ocean, but have the advantage of being closed systems and are therefore ideally suited to studying how processes in natural plankton communities influence particle formation and settling in the ocean's surface. We therefore developed a protocol for efficient sample recovery and processing of quantitatively collected pelagic mesocosm sediment trap samples for biogeochemical analysis. Sedimented material was recovered by pumping it under gentle vacuum through a silicon tube to the sea surface. The particulate matter of these samples was subsequently separated from bulk seawater by passive settling, centrifugation or flocculation with ferric chloride, and we discuss the advantages and efficiencies of each approach. After concentration, samples were freeze-dried and ground with an easy to adapt procedure using standard lab equipment. Grain size of the finely ground samples ranged from fine to coarse silt (2–63 µm), which guarantees homogeneity for representative subsampling, a widespread problem in sediment trap research. Subsamples of the ground material were perfectly suitable for a variety of biogeochemical measurements, and even at very low particle fluxes we were able to get a detailed insight into various parameters characterizing the sinking particles. The methods and recommendations described here are a key improvement for sediment trap applications in mesocosms, as they facilitate the processing of large amounts of samples and allow for high-quality biogeochemical flux data.