Scientia Marina, Vol 65, No S2 (2001)

Formation and fate of marine snow: small-scale processes with large- scale implications

Thomas Kiørboe
Danish Institute for Fisheries Research


Marine snow aggregates are believed to be the main vehicles for vertical material transport in the ocean. However, aggregates are also sites of elevated heterotrophic activity, which may rather cause enhanced retention of aggregated material in the upper ocean. Small-scale biological-physical interactions govern the formation and fate of marine snow. Aggregates may form by physical coagulation: fluid motion causes collisions between small primary particles (e.g. phytoplankton) that may then stick together to form aggregates with enhanced sinking velocities. Bacteria may subsequently solubilise and remineralise aggregated particles. Because the solubilization rate exceeds the remineralization rate, organic solutes leak out of sinking aggregates. The leaking solutes spread by diffusion and advection and form a chemical trail in the wake of the sinking aggregate that may guide small zooplankters to the aggregate. Also, suspended bacteria may enjoy the elevated concentration of organic solutes in the plume. I explore these small-scale formation and degradation processes by means of models, experiments and field observations. The larger scale implications for the structure and functioning of pelagic food chains of export vs. retention of material will be discussed.


food web structure; coagulation; vertical flux; remineralization; behaviour of heteretrophs

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Copyright (c) 2001 Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas (CSIC)

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