Oceans and seas

Biological pump

October 27, 2011, 9:52 pm
This article is written at a definitional level only. Authors wishing to improve this entry are inivited to expand the present treatment, which additions will be peer reviewed prior to publication of any expansion.

The biological pump is the transformation, via photosynthesis in the ocean surface layer by plant cells (primarily phytoplankton), of dissolved inorganic carbon (DIC) into biogenic carbon, including, for example, the calcium carbonate (CaCO3) in shells of coccolithophorids. The photosynthetic organisms incorporating the inorganic carbon return much of it to carbon dioxide (CO2) in the surface layer via respiration, but a significant fraction settles below the main thermocline. This is an oceanic sink for atmospheric CO2 where a rain of small debris consisting of phytoplankton shells and zooplankton fecal pellets and molts sink out of the ocean surface waters. These sinking particles remove particulate organic carbon (POC) from surface mixed layers into stratified, relatively deep layers where, on a millenial time scale, it is no longer susceptible to exchange with the atmosphere. Particulate matter removed in this manner is called export flux.

It is estimated that 75% of the difference in DIC concentration between the surface and deep oceans is due to the biological pump. If this pump were eliminated, the carbon released from the deep ocean as it equilibrated with the atmosphere would more than double the CO2 concentration in the atmosphere. On a global scale, the downward transport of CO2 by the physical (i.e. vertical transport of CO2–laden water) and biological pumps amounts to around 102 billion tonnes (Gigatonnes) of carbon per year (Gt C yr−1). The upward physical transport is about 100 Gt C yr−1, leaving a net uptake of about 2 Gt C yr−1.

See Also

Further Reading

  • Physical Oceanography Index
  • Gilbert T. Rowe and Jack G. Baldauf. Biofeedback in the ocean in response to climate change. In George M. Woodwell and Fred T. Mackenzie, editors, Biotic Feedbacks in the Global Climatic System, pages 233–245. Oxford Univ. Press, 1995.
  • Sallie W. Chisolm. The iron hypothesis: basic research meets environmental policy. Rev. Geophys., 33 Supp.:?, 1995.


Baum, S. (2011). Biological pump. Retrieved from http://www.eoearth.org/view/article/150658


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