National Oceanic and
Atmospheric Administration
United States Department of Commerce


FY 1995

Physical and biological controls on carbon cycling in the equatorial Pacific

Murray, J.W., R.T. Barber, M.R. Roman, M.P. Bacon, and R.A. Feely

Science, 266, 58–65, doi: 10.1126/science.266.5182.58 (1994)

The equatorial Pacific is the largest oceanic source of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere and has been proposed to be a major site of organic carbon export to the deep sea. Study of the chemistry and biology of this area from 170° to 95°W suggests that variability of remote winds in the western Pacific and tropical instability waves are the major factors controlling chemical and biological variability. The reason is that most of the biological production is based on recycled nutrients; only a few of the nutrients transported to the surface by upwelling are taken up by photosynthesis. Biological cycling within the euphotic zone is efficient, and the export of carbon fixed by photosynthesis is small. The fluxes of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere and particulate organic carbon to the deep sea were about 0.3 gigatons per year, and the production of dissolved organic carbon was about three times as large. The data establish El Niño events as the main source of interannual variability.

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