VERtical Transport In the Global Ocean

Project Description

The main goal of VERTIGO is the investigation of the mechanisms that control the efficiency of particle transport through the mesopelagic portion of the water column.

Question: What controls the efficiency of particle transport between the surface and deep ocean? More specifically, what is the fate of sinking particles leaving the upper ocean and what factors influence remineralization length scales for different sinking particle classes? VERTIGO researchers have set out to test two basic hypotheses regarding remineralization control, namely: 1. particle source characteristics are the dominant control on the efficiency of particle transport; and/or that 2. mid-water processing, either by zooplankton or bacteria, controls transport efficiency. To test their hypotheses, they will conduct process studies in the field focused on particle flux and composition changes in the upper 500-1000m of the ocean. The basic approach is to examine changes in particle composition and flux with depth within a given source region using a combination of approaches, many of which are new to the field. These include neutrally buoyant sediment traps, particle pumps, settling columns and respiration chambers, along with the development of new biological and geochemical tools for an integrated biogeochemical assessment of the biological pump. Three week process study cruises have been planned at two sites - the Hawaii Ocean Time-series site (HOT) and a new moored time-series site in the subarctic NW Pacific (Japanese site K2; 47oN 160oE) - where there are strong contrasts in rates of production, export, particle composition and expected remineralization length scales.

Evidence for variability in the flux vs. depth relationship of sinking particles is not in dispute but the controls on particle transport efficiency through the twilight zone remain poorly understood. A lack of reliable flux and particle characterization data within the twilight zone has hampered our ability to make progress in this area, and no single approach is likely to resolve these issues. The proposed study will apply quantitative modeling to determine the net effects of the individual particle processes on the effective transport of carbon and other elements, and to place the shipboard observations in the context of spatial and temporal variations in these processes. For rapid progress in this area, we have organized this effort as a group proposal taking advantage of expertise in the US and international community.

The efficiency of particle transport is important for an accurate assessment of the ocean C sink. Globally, the magnitude and efficiency of the biological pump will in part modulate levels of atmospheric CO2. We maintain that to understand present day ocean C sequestration and to evaluate potential strategies for enhancing sequestration, we need to assess possible changes in the efficiency of particle transport due to climate variability or via purposeful manipulations of C uptake, such as via iron fertilization.

Lead Principal Investigator

Ken Buesseler (Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution)

Participating Investigators and Institutions

List of VERTIGO investigators from the » Cafe Thorium Web site

Project Proposal

original proposal abstract (PDF format)

Project Web Site

at WHOI: » VERTIGO Project Web site

Project Data and Results

Final Database:  access to online relational database of final data
VERTIGO web site:  online archive of original project cruise data (restricted access)

Related Info

funding is provided by the U.S. National Science Foundation