Episodic organic carbon fluxes from surface ocean to abyssal depths during long-term monitoring in NE Pacific

Smith, KL, Ruhl HA, Huffard CL, Messie M, Kahru M.  2018.  Episodic organic carbon fluxes from surface ocean to abyssal depths during long-term monitoring in NE Pacific. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. 115:12235-12240.

Date Published:



abyssal community, attenuation, carbon budget, carbon flux, climate, eastern north pacific, efficiency, export, particle-flux, particulate matter, Science & Technology - Other Topics, sinking, time-series, variability


Growing evidence suggests substantial quantities of particulate organic carbon (POC) produced in surface waters reach abyssal depths within days during episodic flux events. A 29-year record of in situ observations was used to examine episodic peaks in POC fluxes and sediment community oxygen consumption (SCOC) at Station M (NE Pacific, 4,000-m depth). From 1989 to 2017, 19% of POC flux at 3,400 m arrived during high-magnitude episodic events (>= mean + 2 sigma), and 43% from 2011 to 2017. From 2011 to 2017, when high-resolution SCOC data were available, time lags between changes in satellite-estimated export flux (EF), POC flux, and SCOC on the sea floor varied between six flux events from 0 to 70 days, suggesting variable remineralization rates and/or particle sinking speeds. Half of POC flux pulse events correlated with prior increases in EF and/or subsequent SCOC increases. Peaks in EF overlying Station M frequently translated to changes in POC flux at abyssal depths. A power-law model (Martin curve) was used to estimate abyssal fluxes from EF and midwater temperature variation. While the background POC flux at 3,400-m depth was described well by the model, the episodic events were significantly underestimated by similar to 80% and total flux by almost 50%. Quantifying episodic pulses of organic carbon into the deep sea is critical in modeling the depth and intensity of POC sequestration and understanding the global carbon cycle.