Variable reactivity of particulate organic matter in a global ocean biogeochemical model
Abstract. The marine biological carbon pump is dominated by the vertical transfer of particulate organic carbon (POC) from the surface ocean to its interior. The efficiency of this transfer plays an important role in controlling the amount of atmospheric carbon that is sequestered in the ocean. Furthermore, the abundance and composition of POC is critical for the removal of numerous trace elements by scavenging, a number of which, such as iron, are essential for the growth of marine organisms, including phytoplankton. Observations and laboratory experiments have shown that POC is composed of numerous organic compounds that can have very different reactivities. However, this variable reactivity of POC has never been extensively considered, especially in modelling studies. Here, we introduced in the global ocean biogeochemical model NEMO-PISCES a description of the variable composition of POC based on the theoretical reactivity continuum model proposed by Boudreau and Ruddick (1991). Our model experiments show that accounting for a variable lability of POC increases POC concentrations in the ocean's interior by 1 to 2 orders of magnitude. This increase is mainly the consequence of a better preservation of small particles that sink slowly from the surface. Comparison with observations is significantly improved both in abundance and in size distribution. Furthermore, the amount of carbon that reaches the sediments is increased by more than a factor of 2, which is in better agreement with global estimates of the sediment oxygen demand. The impact on the major macronutrients (nitrate and phosphate) remains modest. However, iron (Fe) distribution is strongly altered, especially in the upper mesopelagic zone as a result of more intense scavenging: vertical gradients in Fe are milder in the upper ocean, which appears to be closer to observations. Thus, our study shows that the variable lability of POC can play a critical role in the marine biogeochemical cycles which advocates for more dedicated in situ and laboratory experiments.