Controls on biogenic silica burial in the Southern Ocean

Zanna Chase, Karen E. Kohfeld, Katsumi Matsumoto

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

28 Scopus citations


Understanding the controls on opal export in the Southern Ocean can inform both the prediction of how the leakage of silicic acid from the Southern Ocean responds to climate and the interpretation of paleo-proxies. We have compiled a database of 185 230Thorium-normalized opal burial rates and 493 opal concentration measurements in Southern Ocean sediments and matched these with environmental climatologies. By subdividing the Southern Ocean on the basis of oceanographic regions and interpolating the opal burial rates, we estimate a total biogenic Si burial south of 40°S of 2.3 ± 1.0 Tmol Si yr-1. In both the seasonally ice-covered and permanently ice-free regions we can explain 73% of opal burial variability from surface ocean properties. Where sea ice is present for at least part of the year, the length of the ice-free season determines the upper limit of opal burial in the underlying sediments. In the ice-free regions of the Southern Ocean, the supply of silicic acid through winter mixing is the most important factor. Our results do not support a strong role of iron in controlling opal burial. We do however find that satellite-derived net primary production increases with increasing (modeled) dust delivery. These findings support the decoupling between carbon and opal fluxes in the Southern Ocean. When corrected for opal dissolution, the observed opal fluxes are in reasonable agreement with fluxes simulated using an ocean biogeochemical model. However, the results suggest current preservation algorithms for opal could be improved by incorporating the composition of particle flux, not only its magnitude.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1599-1616
Number of pages18
JournalGlobal Biogeochemical Cycles
Issue number10
StatePublished - Oct 1 2015

Bibliographical note

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©2015. American Geophysical Union. All Rights Reserved.


  • Southern Ocean
  • iron
  • opal
  • sea ice
  • silicic acid
  • thorium-230


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