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Diffusion-Limited Retention of Porous Particles at Density Interfaces Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences

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Kindler,  Kolja
Department of Biogeochemistry, Max Planck Institute for Marine Microbiology, Max Planck Society;

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Khalili,  Arzhang
Department of Biogeochemistry, Max Planck Institute for Marine Microbiology, Max Planck Society;

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Citation

Kindler, K., Khalili, A., & Stocker, R. (2010). Diffusion-Limited Retention of Porous Particles at Density Interfaces Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 1-6.


Cite as: http://hdl.handle.net/21.11116/0000-0001-CB84-5
Abstract
Downward carbon flux in the ocean is largely governed by particle settling. Most marine particles settle at low Reynolds numbers and are highly porous, yet the fluid dynamics of this regime have remained unexplored. We present results of an experimental investigation of porous particles settling through a density interface at Reynolds numbers between 0.1 and 1. We tracked 100 to 500 μm hydrogel spheres with 95.5% porosity and negligible permeability. We found that a small negative initial excess density Δρp relative to the lower (denser) fluid layer, a common scenario in the ocean, results in long retention times of particles at the interface. We hypothesized that the retention time was determined by the diffusive exchange of the stratifying agent between interstitial and ambient fluid, which increases excess density of particles that have stalled at the interface, enabling their settling to resume. This hypothesis was confirmed by observations, which revealed a quadratic dependence of retention time on particle size, consistent with diffusive exchange. These results demonstrate that porosity can control retention times and therefore accumulation of particles at density interfaces, a mechanism that could underpin the formation of particle layers frequently observed at pycnoclines in the ocean. We estimate retention times of 3 min to 3.3 d for the characteristic size range of marine particles. This enhancement in retention time can affect carbon transformation through increased microbial colonization and utilization of particles and release of dissolved organics. The observed size dependence of the retention time could further contribute to improve quantifications of vertical carbon flux.