Particle export fluxes to the oxygen minimum zone of the eastern tropical North Atlantic
Abstract. In the ocean, sinking of particulate organic matter (POM) drives carbon export from the euphotic zone and supplies nutrition to mesopelagic communities, the feeding and degradation activities of which in turn lead to export flux attenuation. Oxygen (O2) minimum zones (OMZs) with suboxic water layers (< 5 µmol O2 kg−1) show a lower carbon flux attenuation compared to well-oxygenated waters (> 100 µmol O2 kg−1), supposedly due to reduced heterotrophic activity. This study focuses on sinking particle fluxes through hypoxic mesopelagic waters (< 60 µmol O2 kg−1); these represent ∼ 100 times more ocean volume globally compared to suboxic waters, but they have less been studied. Particle export fluxes and attenuation coefficients were determined in the eastern tropical North Atlantic (ETNA) using two surface-tethered drifting sediment trap arrays with seven trapping depths located between 100 and 600 m. Data on particulate matter fluxes were fitted to the normalized power function Fz = F100 (z∕100)−b, with F100 being the flux at a depth (z) of 100 m and b being the attenuation coefficient. Higher b values suggest stronger flux attenuation and are influenced by factors such as faster degradation at higher temperatures. In this study, b values of organic carbon fluxes varied between 0.74 and 0.80 and were in the intermediate range of previous reports, but lower than expected from seawater temperatures within the upper 500 m. During this study, highest b values were determined for fluxes of particulate hydrolyzable amino acids (PHAA), followed by particulate organic phosphorus (POP), nitrogen (PN), carbon (POC), chlorophyll a (Chl a) and transparent exopolymer particles (TEP), pointing to a sequential degradation of organic matter components during sinking. Our study suggests that in addition to O2 concentration, organic matter composition co-determines transfer efficiency through the mesopelagic. The magnitude of future carbon export fluxes may therefore also depend on how organic matter quality in the surface ocean changes under influence of warming, acidification and enhanced stratification.