A convergent team of experts in biology, chemistry, physics, engineering, mathematics, and computational modeling examine how dynamic and coupled phytoplankton-pathogen-particle-predator linkages coalesce to explain the observed high spatial variability in the efficiency of the export of particulate organic carbon (POC) to the deep ocean. They elucidate and quantify the linkages between viruses and ballast minerals to increase understanding of carbon cycling in the oceanic biological carbon pump and the impact of viruses within it. By providing knowledge than can be used to improve the parameterization of carbon export in Earth system models, the project will help reduce uncertainty in regional marine biogeochemical projections, potentially improving marine ecosystem and fisheries management on timescales from seasons to decades. The project includes activities that provide teaching resources and hands-on training to educators within a ‘Tools of Science’ program that provides a simple and succinct way to communicate the process of scientific research to students in a way that is useful to teachers.

The project couples laboratory-based experiments on model host-virus-grazer systems with extensive field based observational and manipulative studies on natural populations of diatoms and coccolithophores, the two phytoplankton groups that account for most of the estimated particulate organic matter flux to the deep ocean. Experiments and measurements integrate diagnostic biological and chemical controls on infection and particle coagulation theory with microscale physics and grazing to quantify links to each hypothesized export mechanism under field-relevant turbulent conditions. Cutting-edge engineering and analytical tools are used to diagnose and track infection dynamics while characterizing and quantifying particle aggregation and disaggregation, mineral dissolution, sinking dynamics, grazing rates, and fecal pellet production at unprecedented resolution and under well-defined, microscale physical regimes. Field campaigns elucidate the relative efficiency of hypothesized mechanisms in stimulating POC export in natural blooms, while providing bulk and size-resolved estimates of POC flux.

This award reflects NSF's statutory mission and has been deemed worthy of support through evaluation using the Foundation's intellectual merit and broader impacts review criteria.

National Science Foundation (NSF)
Office of International and Integrative Activities (IIA)
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Dragana Brzakovic
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Rutgers University
United States
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