Dissolved oxygen deficits in the ocean have been used as a measure of the organic matter oxidized in a volume of water. Such organic matter is usually assumed to be predominantly settled particles. Using dissolved oxygen concentration in this way has two problems: first, it does not differentiate between oxidant consumed by the pool of dissolved organic matter present near the ocean surface and oxidant consumed by organic matter contained by falling particles; second, it does not account for other oxidant sources, such as nitrate, which can be as important to organic matter decay as oxygen in low-oxygen water, such as off Peru or in the Southern California submarine basins. New parameters provide better measures of the net oxidant concentration in a water parcel. One such, NetOx, is changed only by gaseous exchange with the atmosphere, exchange with the benthos, or the production or consumption of sinking particles. A simplified version of NetOx, NetOx = [O2] + 1.25[NO3-] - [TOC], where TOC (total organic carbon), the dissolved organic carbon (DOC) plus the suspended particulate organic carbon (POC), provides an index based on the usually dominant variables. Calculation of NetOx and a second property, NetOC ([O2] - [TOC]), for data from GEOSECS and ourselves in the Atlantic and Pacific oceans using property-property graphs show differences from those from oxygen deficits alone. Comparison of NetOx and NetOC concentrations at high and low latitudes of the Pacific Ocean shows the difference in surface water oxidant concentrations is even larger than the difference in oxygen concentration. Vertical particle fluxes off Peru calculated from NetOx gradients are much greater than those calculated from oxygen gradients. The potential value of NetOx and NetOC as parameters to understand particle fluxes implies that determination of TOC should be a routine part of hydrographic measurements. © 1988.
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