National Oceanic and
Atmospheric Administration
United States Department of Commerce


FY 1994

The cycling of sulfur in surface seawater of the northeast Pacific

Bates, T.S., R.P. Kiene, G.V. Wolfe, P.A. Matrai, F.P. Chavez, K.R. Buck, B.W. Blomquist, and R.L. Cuhel

J. Geophys. Res., 99(C4), 7835–7843, doi: 10.1029/93JC02782 (1994)

Oceanic dimethylsulfide (DMS) emissions to the atmosphere are potentially important to the Earth's radiative balance. Since these emissions are driven by the surface seawater concentration of DMS, it is important to understand the processes controlling the cycling of sulfur in surface seawater. During the third Pacific Sulfur/Stratus Investigation (PSI-3, April 1991) we measured the major sulfur reservoirs (total organic sulfur, total low molecular weight organic sulfur, ester sulfate, protein sulfur, dimethylsulfoniopropionate (DMSP), DMS, dimethylsulfoxide) and quantified many of the processes that cycle sulfur through the upper water column (sulfate assimilation, DMSP consumption, DMS production and consumption, air-sea exchange of DMS, loss of organic sulfur by particulate sinking). Under conditions of low plankton biomass (<0.4 μg/L chlorophyll a) and high nutrient concentrations (>8 μM nitrate), 250 km off the Washington State coast, DMSP and DMS were 22% and 0.9%, respectively, of the total particulate organic sulfur pool. DMS production from the enzymatic cleavage of DMSP accounted for 29% of the total sulfate assimilation. However, only 0.3% of sulfate-S assimilated was released to the atmosphere. From these data it is evident that air- sea exchange is currently only a minor sink in the seawater sulfur cycle and thus there is the potential for much higher DMS emissions under different climatic conditions.

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