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Journal Article

Particulate organic matter in the sea: The composition conundrum


Arnosti,  C.
Department of Molecular Ecology, Max Planck Institute for Marine Microbiology, Max Planck Society;

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Lee, C., Wakeham, S., & Arnosti, C. (2004). Particulate organic matter in the sea: The composition conundrum. Ambio, 33(8), 565-575.

Cite as: http://hdl.handle.net/21.11116/0000-0001-D0EA-C
As organic matter produced in the euphotic zone of the ocean sinks through the mesopelagic zone, its composition changes from one that is easily characterized by standard chromatographic techniques to one that is not. The material not identified at the molecular level is called "uncharacterized". Several processes account for this transformation of organic matter: aggregation/disaggregation of particles resulting in incorporation of older and more degraded material; recombination of organic compounds into geomacromolecules; and selective preservation of specific biomacromolecules. Furthermore, microbial activities may introduce new cell wall or other biomass material that is not easily characterized, or they may produce such material as a metabolic product. In addition, black carbon produced by combustion processes may compose a fraction of the uncharacterized organic matter, as it is not analyzed in standard biochemical techniques. Despite these poorly-defined compositional changes that hinder chemical identification, the vast majority of organic matter in sinking particles remains accessible to and is ultimately remineralized by marine microbes.