Organic Matter in the Surface Microlayer : Insights From a Wind Wave Channel Experiment

The surface microlayer (SML) is the uppermost thin layer of the ocean and influencing interactions between the air and sea, such as gas exchange, atmospheric deposition and aerosol emission. Organic matter (OM) plays a key role in air-sea exchange processes, but studying how the accumulation of organic compounds in the SML relates to biological processes is impeded in the field by a changing physical environment, in particular wind speed and wave breaking. Here, we studied OM dynamics in the SML under controlled physical conditions in a large annular wind wave channel, filled with natural seawater, over a period of 26 days. Biology in both SML and bulk water was dominated by bacterioneuston and -plankton, respectively, while autotrophic biomass in the two compartments was very low. In general, SML thickness was related to the concentration of dissolved organic carbon (DOC) but not to enrichment of DOC or of specific OM components in the SML. Pronounced changes in OM enrichment and molecular composition were observed in the course of the study and correlated significantly to bacterial abundance. Thereby, hydrolysable amino acids, in particular arginine, were more enriched in the SML than combined carbohydrates. Amino acid composition indicated that less degraded OM accumulated preferentially in the SML. A strong correlation was established between the amount of surfactants coverage and γ -aminobutric acid, suggesting that microbial cycling of amino acids can control physiochemical traits of the SML. Our study shows that accumulation and cycling of OM in the SML can occur independently of recent autotrophic production, indicating a widespread biogenic control of process across the air-sea exchange.


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