Oceanography The Official Magazine of
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Volume 31 Issue 01

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Volume 31, No. 1
Pages 42 - 49


The North Atlantic Biological Pump: Insights from the Ocean Observatories Initiative Irminger Sea Array

By Hilary I. Palevsky and David P. Nicholson 
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Article Abstract

The biological pump plays a key role in the global carbon cycle by transporting photosynthetically fixed organic carbon into the deep ocean, where it can be sequestered from the atmosphere over annual or longer time scales if exported below the winter ventilation depth. In the subpolar North Atlantic, carbon sequestration via the biological pump is influenced by two competing forces: a spring diatom bloom that features large, fast-sinking biogenic particles, and deep winter mixing that requires particles to sink much further than in other ocean regions to escape winter ventilation. We synthesize biogeochemical sensor data from the first two years of operations at the Ocean Observatories Initiative Irminger Sea Array of moorings and gliders (September 2014–July 2016), providing the first simultaneous year-round observations of biological carbon cycling processes in both the surface ocean and the seasonal thermocline in this critical but previously undersampled region. These data show significant mixed layer net autotrophy during the spring bloom and significant respiration in the seasonal thermocline during the stratified season (~5.9 mol C m–2 remineralized between 200 m and 1,000 m). This respired carbon is subsequently ventilated during winter convective mixing (>1,000 m), a significant reduction in potential carbon sequestration. This highlights the importance of year-round observations to accurately constrain the biological pump in the subpolar North Atlantic, as well as other high-latitude regions that experience deep winter mixing.


Palevsky, H.I., and D.P. Nicholson. 2018. The North Atlantic biological pump: Insights from the Ocean Observatories Initiative Irminger Sea Array. Oceanography 31(1):42–49, https://doi.org/10.5670/oceanog.2018.108.

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