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Present-day fluxes of coccolithophores and diatoms in the pelagic Ionian Sea

January 19, 2014

Biogenic fluxes from two sediment traps in the Ionian sea (35°13’N, 21°30’E) at 500 and 2800 m water depth are discussed in relation with the main oceanographic and external forcing and compared with previous data from a nearby location. This study is part of a multi-year sediment trap deployment, aimed at assessing seasonality and interannual variability of biogenic and a-biogenic fluxes. Here, we focus on fluxes related to two main phytoplankton groups: coccolithophores and diatoms.

At our mooring site, high-coccolithophore and low-diatom fluxes confirm the oligotrophic character of the pelagic eastern Mediterranean year-round. Coccolithophore assemblages are dominated by the cosmopolitan species Emiliania huxleyi, followed by the deep-dwelling Florisphaera profunda and by several minor species. Diatom assemblages are dominated by Thalassionema bacillare and Nitzschia interruptestriata, with ~ 100 common and minor species. Overall, the combined flux pattern of coccolithophores and diatoms shows a clear seasonality throughout the study period, which can be related to changing oceanographic conditions and a different depth of production within the photic zone. Worth to note is the extremely high abundance, with respect to previous pelagic records, of species indicative of an intense deep chlorophyll maximum (DCM), which could indicate a shoaling of the nutricline. This feature can be related to the variability that affects surface hydrography and the deep water masses.

Additionally, the occurrence of neritic, benthic and brackish to fresh-water diatom species, mainly in the deeper trap, could be linked to either lateral transport within the water column or the atmospheric input of Saharan dust, which is known to be common over the eastern Mediterranean especially during spring time.

Finally, correlation of the flux pattern at different depths allowed to calculate sinking speeds for total and biogenic particles ranging from 70 to > 200 m day– 1. Three possible mechanisms can explain such high sinking rates and the coincidence of biogenic and total particle fluxes in the traps: a) the ballast effect of coccoliths; b) the packaging effect of fecal pellets related to the grazing activity of zooplankton; c) the ballast effect of dust particles.

Malinverno E, Maffioli P, Corselli C, De Lange G J, in press. Present-day fluxes of coccolithophores and diatoms in the pelagic Ionian Sea, Journal of Marine Systems, 2014, doi:10.1016/j.jmarsys.2013.12.009. Article.

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