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The oceanographic toolbox for the collection of sinking and suspended marine particles


Marine particles play a central role in controlling the transport, cycling, and inventories of many major elements and trace elements and isotopes throughout the oceans. Studies seeking to elucidate the biogeochemical roles of marine particles often require reliable ways to collect them from the ocean. Here, we review the oceanographic toolbox of techniques and instrumentation that are employed to collect both suspended and sinking particles. With these tools, it is possible to determine both the concentrations and vertical fluxes of important elements and individual particle types. We describe the various methods for quantifying the concentrations of particulate matter with in situ pumps, towed sampling devices, bottle collectors, and large volume capture devices. The uses of various types of flux collection platforms are discussed including surface tethered, neutrally buoyant, and bottom moored devices. We address the issues of sediment trap collection biases and the apparent inconsistencies that can arise due to differences in the temporal and spatial scales sampled by the various methodologies. Special attention is given to collection considerations made for the analysis of trace metals and isotopes, as these methodologies are of high importance to the ongoing GEOTRACES program which seeks to identify the processes and quantify fluxes that control the distributions of key trace elements and isotopes in the ocean. With the emergence of new particle collection methodologies and the continued reliance on traditional collection methods, it is imperative that we combine these multiple approaches in ways that will help improve their accuracy and precision while enhancing their utility in advancing understanding of the biogeochemical and ecological roles of marine particles.

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