BIOBAM (September 2011)

Barite bio-organi-mineralization processes at mesopelagic depths


Summary of the project

Important to our understanding of marine biogeochemistry and climates cycles is the transfer to depth of particulate organic carbon (C) via the biological pump. The surface and mesopelagic zones (upper 1000 m) are of crucial significance in determining the efficiency of the transfer and the fate of biogenic material, since mineralization length scales are important indicators of the capacity of intermediate layers for longer term C sequestration. A quantitative representation of this process is thus essential to every simulation of the oceans’ role in the global C cycle.

The particulate barium barite (Ba-BaSO4) in suspended matter is a proxy of C mineralization fluxes. The picture emerging today is that barite precipitation takes place inside micro-environments (e.g. biogenic aggregates) sinking out of the surface layers into mesopelagic waters. Barite formation appears closely linked (directly or indirectly) with prokaryotic degradation of Organic Matter (OM) and thus with C remineralization rate. As revealed by barite proxy in contrasting environments, the extent of mesopelagic C mineralization appears closely linked to specific ecosystem’s characteristics (e.g. differences in phytoplankton community composition, grazing pressure, trophic interactions and types of aggregates formed). However, we are still far from a detailed understanding of the processes controlling formation and fate of aggregates beyond the surface layer. Indeed, uncertainties both on particles and plankton communities characteristics and on the exact processes controlling barite precipitation are limiting our understanding of particle formation, transport and fate, thereby impeding both a predictive understanding of the flux of organic C to the deep and a wider use of the barite proxy. Here we point out the need for a mechanistic understanding of the barite formation process and of the Ba trace-element cycle in order to validate both the modern and paleo–applications. Overall, the factors controlling the whole processes reported above need to be better constrained, especially at meso- and submeso- scale. It is clearly a challenge to connect the flux of sinking particles to surface water processes and to assess their variability with regards to climate and anthropogenic changes.

In this context, the BIOBAM project (Bio-Ogano-Minéralization de la BArytine en Zone Mésopélagique) will focus for the first time on the black box of subsurface & mesopelagic particles fluxes in order to provide a better understanding of the link between the processes of barite formation, degradation and remineralization of OM and the characteristics of exported particles, and their dependency on ecosystems structure. In particular, BIOBAM will investigate the role of minerals, planktonic and prokaryotic communities and hydrostatic pressure on both (i) the variability of exported biogenic materials and C remineralization processes in the mesopelagic and (ii) the subsequent barite precipitation inside these micro-environments. Indeed, while previous in vivo experiments of barite precipitation and OM degradation (most of them unsuccessful) and of particles aggregation have all been performed under atmospheric pressure, we will realized in this project close to in situ experiments, using pressure-controlled batch-incubation to simulate particles sinking throughout the mesopelagic zone.

Area of study

Laboratory experiments using Mediterranean Sea water

TimeTable for activities



JACQUET Stéphanie

BIOBAM endorsed project

LOPB, Centre d'Océanologie de Marseille, Marseille, France

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