Radiolaria: Major exporters of organic carbon to the deep ocean

R. S. Lampitt, Ian Salter, D. Johns

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69 Citations (Scopus)


Very large pulses of particulate organic matter intermittently sink to the deep waters of the open ocean in the Northeast Atlantic. These pulses, measured by moored sediment traps since 1989, can contribute up to 60% of the organic flux to 3000 m in a particular year and are thus a major cause of the variability in carbon sequestration from the atmosphere in the region. Pulses occur in the late summer and are characterized by material that is very rich in organic carbon but with low concentrations of the biominerals opal and calcite. A number of independent lines of evidence have been examined to determine the causes of these pulses: (1) Data from the Continuous Plankton Recorder (CPR) survey show that in this region, radiolarian protozoans intermittently reach high abundances in the late summer just preceding organic pulses to depth. (2) CPR data also show that the interannual variability in radiolarian abundance since 1997 mirrors very closely the variability of deep ocean organic deposition. (3) The settling material collected in the traps displays a strong correlation between fecal pellets produced by radiolaria and the measured organic carbon flux. These all suggest that the pulses are mediated by radiolarians, a group of protozoans found throughout the world's oceans and which are widely used by paleontologists to determine past climate conditions. Changes in the upper ocean community structure (between years and on longer timescales) may have profound effects on the ability of the oceans to sequester carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.
Original languageEnglish
Article numberGB003221
Number of pages9
JournalGlobal Biogeochemical Cycles
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 6 Mar 2009


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