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Evaluation of Particle Size Distribution Metrics to Estimate the Relative Contributions of Different Size Fractions Based on Measurements in Arctic Waters


The size distribution of suspended particles influences several processes in aquatic ecosystems, including light propagation, trophic interactions, and biogeochemical cycling. The shape of the particle size distribution (PSD) is commonly modeled as a single-slope power law in oceanographic studies, which can be used to further estimate the relative contributions of different particle size classes to particle number, area, and volume concentration. We use a data set of 168 high size-resolution PSD measurements in Arctic oceanic waters to examine variability in the shape of the PSD over the particle diameter range 0.8 to 120 μm. An average value of -3.6 ± 0.33 was obtained for the slope of a power law fitted over this size range, consistent with other studies. Our analysis indicates, however, that this model has significant limitations in adequately parameterizing the complexity of the PSD, and thus performs poorly in predicting the relative contributions of different size intervals such as those based on picoplankton, nanoplankton, and microplankton size classes. Similarly, median particle size was also generally a poor indicator of these size class contributions. Our results suggest that alternative percentile diameters derived from the cumulative distribution functions of particle number, cross-sectional area, and volume concentration may provide better metrics to capture the overall shape of the PSD and to quantify the contributions of different particle size classes.

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