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Ocean's 'twilight zone' may be a key to understanding climate change

offsetting the impacts of greenhouse gases.

Using new technology, the researchers found that only 20 percent of the total carbon in the ocean surface made it through the twilight zone off Hawaii, while 50 percent did in the northwest Pacific near Japan.

These sinking particles, often called "marine snow," supply food to organisms deeper down, including bacteria that decompose the particles. In the process, carbon is converted back into dissolved organic and inorganic forms that are re-circulated and reused in the twilight zone and that can make their way to the surface and back into the atmosphere.

The problem, say scientists, is that particles sink slowly, perhaps 10 to a few hundred meters per day, but they are swept sideways by ocean currents traveling many thousands of meters per day. To collect sinking particles, oceanographers use cones or tubes that hang beneath buoys or float up from sea floor. That, Buesseler said, "is like putting out a rain gauge in a hurricane."

While many studies have investigated the surface of the ocean, little research has been conducted on the carbon cycle below. The VERTIGO team examined a variety of processes to open a new window into the difficult-to-explore twilight zone. They successfully used a wide array of new tools, including an experimental device that overcame a longstanding problem of how to collect marine snow falling into the twilight zone.


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Source:National Science Foundation


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