Skip to main content
Open Access Publications from the University of California

Dietary carbon sources for deep-sea organisms as inferred from their organic radiocarbon activities


A small but significant depletion of radiocarbon activity () is present in surface, meso-, bathy- and abyssopelagic fishes and crustaceans collected from depth in the North Central Pacific (NCP) and in the Northeast Pacific (NEP) in the 1960s and 1970s compared to average values for dissolved inorganic carbon (DIC) and zooplankton found in the euphotic zone during this period. These low 14C activities are postulated to result from (1) the 14C gradient in DIC in the euphotic zone, and (2) the incorporation of low activity, pre-bomb peakcarbon (pre-1969) from the surface ocean into chronologically old organisms. Based on the relative increase of 14C activity in surface and deep organisms, maximum estimates of the turnover times range from 1< to 9 years for the organic carbon in surface and mesopelagic animals and 4–18 years for bathy- ad abyssopelagic animals from the NCP and NEP. These data suggest that the main source of dietary carbon for deep-sea organisms is from rapidly sinking organic detritus from the surface and from active (animal mediated) transport of living carbon. There may be a minor contribution (15%) to bathypelagic organisms from low 14C activity chemolithotrophically der ived organic carbon, from heterotrophic uptake of mid-depth DIC or from recycled carbon.

Main Content
For improved accessibility of PDF content, download the file to your device.
Current View