Trajectories of sinking particles and the catchment areas above sediment traps in the northeast Atlantic
A Lagrangian analysis of particles sinking through a velocity field observed by Eulerian frame measurements was used to evaluate the effects of horizontal advection and particle sinking speed on particle fluxes as measured by moored sediment traps. Characteristics of the statistical funnel above moored deep-ocean sediment traps at the German JGOFS quasi-time series station at 47N, 20W (Biotrans site) were determined. The analysis suggests that the distance and direction between a given sediment trap and the region at the surface where the particles were produced depends on the mean sinking velocity of the particles, the horizontal velocity field above the trap and the deployment depth of the trap. Traps moored at different depths at a given mooring site can collect particles originating from different, separated regions at the surface ocean. Catchment areas for a given trap vary between different years. Typical distances between catchment areas of traps from different water depth but for a given time period (e.g., the spring season) are similar or even larger compared to typical length scales of mesoscale variability of phytoplankton biomass observed in the temperate northeast Atlantic. This implies that particles sampled at a certain time at different depth horizons may originate from completely independent epipelagic systems. Furthermore catchment areas move with time according to changes in the horizontal flow field which jeopardizes the common treatment of interpreting a series of particle flux measurements as a simple time series. The results presented in this work demonstrate that the knowledge of the temporal and spatial variability of the velocity field above deep-ocean sediment traps is of great importance to the interpretation of particle flux measurements. Therefore, the one-dimensional interpretation of particle flux observations should be taken with care.
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Document Type: Research Article
Publication date: 01 November 2000
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