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The Physical Strength of Marine Snow and its Implications for Particle Disaggregation in the Ocean

Alice L. Alldredge, Timothy C. Granata, Chris C. Gotschalk and Tommy D. Dickey
Limnology and Oceanography
Vol. 35, No. 7 (Nov., 1990), pp. 1415-1428
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/2837730
Page Count: 14
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The Physical Strength of Marine Snow and its Implications for Particle Disaggregation in the Ocean
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Abstract

Abiotic fragmentation of large, rapidly sinking aggregates into smaller, suspended particles by fluid shear has been suggested as an important process governing the particle size spectrum in the ocean and as one explanation for the exponential decrease of particulate flux with depth below the euphotic zone. We investigated this process by quantifying the small-scale energy dissipation rates required to disaggregate marine snow settling through a gradient of turbulent kinetic energy in a laboratory tank. Aggregates of detrital debris, gelatinous houses of larvacean tunicates, and aggregates of living bacteria did not break apart even at energy dissipation rates $>> 1 cm^2 s^-3$. The rate of energy dissipation required to disaggregate fragile diatom flocs up to 25 mm long ranged from $10^-3 to >1 cm^2 s^-3$ and increased exponentially with decreasing maximun aggregate diameter. Aged diatom aggregates were significantly stronger than otherwise indentical but unaged particles. These results indicate that only the highest shears associated with storm events or flows in tidal channels would be able to fragment even the most fragile organic aggregates in the upper ocean. Biological processes of dissaggregation, such as animal grazing, appear far more likely to mediate the size spectrum of aggregated particulate matter in the ocean than abiotic fragmentation due to fluid motion.

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