Mesoscale ocean fronts enhance carbon export due to gravitational sinking and subduction

Michael R. Stukel, Lihini I. Aluwihare, Katherine A. Barbeau, Alexander M. Chekalyuk, Ralf Goericke, Arthur J. Miller, Mark D. Ohman, Angel Ruacho, Hajoon Song, Brandon M. Stephens, Michael R. Landry

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

85 Citations (Scopus)


Enhanced vertical carbon transport (gravitational sinking and subduction) at mesoscale ocean fronts may explain the demonstrated imbalance of new production and sinking particle export in coastal upwelling ecosystems. Based on flux assessments from 238U:234Th disequilibrium and sediment traps, we found 2 to 3 times higher rates of gravitational particle export near a deep-water front (305 mg C·m-2·d-1) compared with adjacent water or to mean (nonfrontal) regional conditions. Elevated particle flux at the front wasmechanistically linked to Fe-stressed diatoms and highmesozooplankton fecal pellet production. Using a data assimilative regional ocean model fit to measured conditions, we estimate that an additional ∼225 mg C·m-2·d-1 was exported as subduction of particlerich water at the front, highlighting a transport mechanism that is not captured by sediment traps and is poorly quantified by most models and in situ measurements. Mesoscale fronts may be responsible for over a quarter of total organic carbon sequestration in the California Current and other coastal upwelling ecosystems.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1252-1257
Number of pages6
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - 2017 Feb 7

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General


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