Topics in Geobiology Volume 11, 1993, pp 145-169

Production, Transport, and Alteration of Particulate Organic Matter in the Marine Water Column

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Most of the organic matter sequestered in Recent and ancient marine sediments is ultimately derived from organic matter biosynthesized by marine organisms inhabiting the surface waters of the oceans and transported to the seafloor as particulate organic matter (POM). However, most of the organic matter produced in the upper ocean is recycled in the upper few hundred meters of the water column (the epipelagic zone). Only a small fraction of the particulate material produced in the euphotic zone sinks into deeper waters (the mesopelagic and bathypelagic zones). In turn, only a small fraction of this sinking material survives transport to the seafloor to be preserved in the sediments. Extensive alteration of organic matter in the water column and at the sediment-water interface can yield sedimentary organic matter having a chemical composition markedly different from that of the material originally biosynthesized. A major goal of marine organic geochemists is to understand the qualitative and quantitative changes which occur in the water column and at the sediment-water interface (Wakeham and Lee, 1989). In this chapter we will discuss recent advances in our understanding of water column processes which influence the cycling of organic matter in the ocean.