Efficient export of carbon to the deep ocean through dissolved organic matter. Academic Article uri icon


  • Oceanic dissolved organic carbon (DOC) constitutes one of the largest pools of reduced carbon in the biosphere. Estimated DOC export from the surface ocean represents 20% of total organic carbon flux to the deep ocean, which constitutes a primary control on atmospheric carbon dioxide levels. DOC is the carbon component of dissolved organic matter (DOM) and an accurate quantification of DOM pools, fluxes and their controls is therefore critical to understanding oceanic carbon cycling. DOC export is directly coupled with dissolved organic nitrogen and phosphorus export. However, the C:N:P stoichiometry (by atoms) of DOM dynamics is poorly understood. Here we study the stoichiometry of the DOM pool and of DOM decomposition in continental shelf, continental slope and central ocean gyre environments. We find that DOM is remineralized and produced with a C:N:P stoichiometry of 199:20:1 that is substantially lower than for bulk pools (typically >775:54:1), but greater than for particulate organic matter (106:16:1--the Redfield ratio). Thus for a given mass of new N and P introduced into surface water, more DOC can be exported than would occur at the Redfield ratio. This may contribute to the excess respiration estimated to occur in the interior ocean. Our results place an explicit constraint on global carbon export and elemental balance via advective pathways.

publication date

  • January 13, 2005