Deep ocean nutrients imply large latitudinal variation in particle transfer efficiency

Thomas Weber, Jacob A. Cram, Shirley W. Leung, Timothy DeVries, Curtis Deutsch

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

110 Scopus citations


The "transfer efficiency" of sinking organic particles through the mesopelagic zone and into the deep ocean is a critical determinant of the atmosphere?ocean partition of carbon dioxide (CO2). Our ability to detect large-scale spatial variations in transfer efficiency is limited by the scarcity and uncertainties of particle flux data. Here we reconstruct deep ocean particle fluxes by diagnosing the rate of nutrient accumulation along transport pathways in a data-constrained ocean circulation model. Combined with estimates of organic matter export from the surface, these diagnosed fluxes reveal a global pattern of transfer efficiency to 1,000m that is high (∼25%) at high latitudes and low (∼5%) in subtropical gyres, with intermediate values in the tropics. This pattern is well correlated with spatial variations in phytoplankton community structure and the export of ballast minerals, which control the size and density of sinking particles. These findings accentuate the importance of high-latitude oceans in sequestering carbon over long timescales, and highlight potential impacts on remineralization depth as phytoplankton communities respond to a warming climate.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)8606-8611
Number of pages6
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number31
StatePublished - Aug 2 2016
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General


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