Can neap-spring tidal cycles modulate biogeochemical fluxes in the abyssal near-seafloor water column?

Robert Turnewitsch, Andrew Dale, Niko Lahajnar, Richard S Lampitt, Kei Sakamoto

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

10 Citations (Scopus)
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Before particulate matter that settles as ‘primary flux’ from the interior ocean is deposited into deep-sea sediments it has to traverse the benthic boundary layer (BBL) that is likely to cover almost all parts of the seafloor in the deep seas. Fluid dynamics in the BBL differ vastly from fluid dynamics in the overlying water column and, consequently, have the potential to lead to quantitative and compositional changes between primary and depositional fluxes. Despite this potential and the likely global relevance very little is known about mechanistic and quantitative aspects of the controlling processes. Here, results are pre-
sented for a sediment-trap time-series study that was conducted on the Porcupine Abyssal Plain in the abyssal Northeast Atlantic, with traps deployed at 2, 40 and 569 m above bottom (mab). The two bottom-most traps were situated within the BBL-affected part of the water column. The time series captured 3
neap and 4 spring tides and the arrival of fresh settling material originating from a surface-ocean bloom. In the trap-collected material, total particulate matter (TPM), particulate inorganic carbon (PIC), biogenic silica (BSi), particulate organic carbon (POC), particulate nitrogen (PN), total hydrolysable amino acids (AA), hexosamines (HA) and lithogenic material (LM) were determined. The biogeochemical results are presented within the context of time series of measured currents (at 15 mab) and turbidity (at 1 mab). The main outcome is evidence for an effect of neap/spring tidal oscillations on particulate-matter dynamics in BBL-affected waters in the deep sea. Based on the frequency-decomposed current measurements and numerical modelling of BBL fluid dynamics, it is concluded that the neap/spring tidal oscillations of particulate-matter dynamics are less likely due to temporally varying total free-stream current speeds and more likely due to temporally and vertically varying turbulence intensities that result from the temporally varying interplay of different rotational flow components (residual, tidal, near-inertial) within the
BBL. Using information from previously published empirical and theoretical relations between fluid and biogeochemical dynamics at the scale of individual particle aggregates, a conceptual and semi-quantitative picture of a mechanism was derived that explains how the neap/spring fluid-dynamic oscillations may translate through particle dynamics into neap/spring oscillations of biogeochemical aggregate decomposition (microbially driven organic-matter breakdown, biomineral dissolution). It is predicted that, during transitions from neap into spring tides, increased aggregation in near-seafloor waters and/or reduced deposition of aggregates at the seafloor coincides with reduced biogeochemical particulate-matter decomposition in near-seafloor waters. By contrast, during transitions from spring into neap tides, enhanced biogeochemical particulate-matter decomposition in near-seafloor waters is
predicted to coincide with increased deposition of particulate matter at the seafloor. This study suggests that, in addition to current speed, the specifics and subtleties of the interplay of different rotational flow components can be an important control on how the primary flux from the interior ocean is translated
into the depositional flux, with potential implications for sedimentary carbon deposition, benthic food supply and possibly even the sedimentary records of environmental change.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-24
Number of pages24
JournalProgress in Oceanography
Publication statusPublished - 21 Apr 2017


  • Neap-spring tide
  • Sediment trap
  • Biogeochemical flux
  • Boundary layer
  • Abyssal ocean


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