Size-related Isotopic Heterogeneity in Lipids from the Marine Water Column

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Size-related Isotopic Heterogeneity in Lipids from the Marine Water Column

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Title: Size-related Isotopic Heterogeneity in Lipids from the Marine Water Column
Author: Close, Hilary Gwyneth
Citation: Close, Hilary Gwyneth. 2012. Size-related Isotopic Heterogeneity in Lipids from the Marine Water Column. Doctoral dissertation, Harvard University.
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Abstract: Microbes, including Bacteria, are globally important mediators of elemental transformations in the marine water column, but not until recently has their biomass been suggested to contribute significantly to carbon export flux. Here I characterize lipid and carbon isotopic signatures in marine particulate organic matter (POM) explicitly at microbial size scales, and I quantitatively explore how these signatures are transferred down the water column. In the North Pacific Subtropical Gyre (NPSG) an isotopically-enriched pool of submicron POM appears to dominate export to mesopelagic depths, supporting recent observations that bacterioplankton communities contribute to export flux in proportion to their biological abundance. In the Eastern Tropical North Pacific (ETNP) complex pathways emerge for the flux of POM to the deep ocean. I use the largest data set to date for natural \(^{13}C\) signatures of individual water column lipids to reveal that submicron and larger-size suspended POM size classes are isotopically distinct. Results point to de novo production of lipids above and within the oxygen minimum zone. I develop quantitative models to deconvolve the signatures of sinking and in situ sources of these lipids. Results converge on a best-fit model for downward flux in the ETNP that includes both surface-derived and sub-photic zone lipids. Overall results from the modern ocean suggest that approximately half of total suspended POM is submicron in size, much of it is bacterial in origin, and despite the small size of this material, it participates dynamically in water column export flux. These results also suggest some revised interpretations of organic matter signatures in the geologic record. I formulate a quantitative model of marine microbial production and degradation, and reproduce "inverse" isotopic signatures found in lipids and organic matter preserved in Proterozoic sedimentary rocks. Results suggest that the disappearance of this inverse \(^{13}C\) pattern was a consequence of the shift from Bacteria to Eukarya as dominant producers of marine autotrophic biomass. Together, results of this thesis reveal that heterogeneity in the isotopic signatures of marine suspended POM is associated with particle size, and by extension, must be a function of the composition of the total planktonic community.
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