The microscopic plants and animals in the upper layer of the ocean contribute to a flow of organic matter from the surface to the deeper ocean. Much of this matter, or sediment, contains elements and organic compounds that support life below the sunlit layer (photic zone) of the ocean. Residual material not consumed by organisms or redistributed by ocean currents ends up settling on the seafloor, providing scientists with a record of past ocean conditions that can be used to better understand earth's history and past climate conditions. The redistributed particles also play an important role in regulating the ocean's productivity, the global cycles of many elements, and the rate at which the ocean can absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.
The Oceanic Flux Program (OFP) is the longest-running time-series of its kind, continuously monitoring the types and numbers of particles within the water column of the Sargasso Sea. Anchored in 4000 meters of water, the OFP site consists of a research mooring comprising numerous glass flotation spheres, multiple sediment traps, a current meter, and a communications buoy to telemeter data back to a land-based station. The mooring is located approximately 75 kilometers southeast of Bermuda, near the Bermuda Atlantic Time-series Study (BATS) deployment area, in the western part of the North Atlantic gyre.
Data from the OFP have provided results important to clarifying our understanding of ocean biogeochemical cycles, including:
- Evidence of the intensity of biological reprocessing of sinking flux in mesopelagic waters;
- The variability in particle flux on interannual and decadal time scales, and how this is impacted by changing ocean chemistry and basin-scale climatic forcing (e.g., the North Atlantic Oscillation);
- The tight coupling between deep fluxes and upper ocean processes
For more information on the OFP, including a list of publications and how to use cruise samples for research collaborations, please visit the OFP website.