Introduction to project DUNE, a DUst experiment in a low nutrient, low chlorophyll ecosystem

C. Guieu, F. Dulac, C. Ridame, P. Pondaven

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The main goal of project DUNE was to estimate the impact of atmospheric deposition on an oligotrophic ecosystem based on mesocosm experiments simulating strong atmospheric inputs of eolian mineral dust.

Our mesocosm experiments aimed at being representative of real atmospheric deposition events onto the surface of oligotrophic marine waters and were an original attempt to consider the vertical dimension after atmospheric deposition at the sea surface.

This introductory paper describes the objectives of DUNE and the implementation plan of a series of mesocosm experiments conducted in the Mediterranean Sea in 2008 and 2010 during which either wet or dry and a succession of two wet deposition fluxes of 10 g m-2 of Saharan dust have been simulated based on the production of dust analogs from erodible soils of a source region. After the presentation of the main biogeochemical initial conditions of the site at the time of each experiment, a general overview of the papers published in this special issue is presented. From laboratory results on the solubility of trace elements in dust to biogeochemical results from the mesocosm experiments and associated modeling, these papers describe how the strong simulated dust deposition events impacted the marine biogeochemistry. Those multidisciplinary results are bringing new insights into the role of atmospheric deposition on oligotrophic ecosystems and its impact on the carbon budget. The dissolved trace metals with crustal origin - Mn, Al and Fe - showed different behaviors as a function of time after the seeding. The increase in dissolved Mn and Al concentrations was attributed to dissolution processes. The observed decrease in dissolved Fe was due to scavenging on sinking dust particles and aggregates. When a second dust seeding followed, a dissolution of Fe from the dust particles was then observed due to the excess Fe binding ligand concentrations present at that time. Calcium nitrate and sulfate were formed in the dust analog for wet deposition following evapocondensation with acids for simulating cloud processing by polluted air masses under anthropogenic influence. Using a number of particulate tracers that were followed in the water column and in the sediment traps, it was shown that the dust composition evolves after seeding by total dissolution of these salts. This provided a large source of new dissolved inorganic nitrogen (DIN) in the surface waters. In spite of this dissolution, the typical inter-elemental ratios in the particulate matter, such as Ti / Al or Ba / Al, are not affected during the dust settling, confirming their values as proxies of lithogenic fluxes or of productivity in sediment traps. DUNE experiments have clearly shown the potential for Saharan wet deposition to modify the in situ concentrations of dissolved elements of biogeochemical interest such as Fe and also P and N. Indeed, wet deposition yielded a transient increase in dissolved inorganic phosphorus (DIP) followed by a very rapid return to initial conditions or no return to initial conditions when a second dust seeding followed. By transiently increasing DIP and DIN concentrations in P- and N-starved surface waters of the Mediterranean Sea, wet deposition of Saharan dust can likely relieve the potential P and/or N limitation of biological activity; this has been directly quantified in terms of biological response. Wet deposition of dust strongly stimulated primary production and phytoplanktonic biomass during several days. Small phytoplankton (< 3 μm) was more stimulated after the first dust addition, whereas the larger size class (> 3 μm) significantly increased after the second one, indicating that larger-sized cells need further nutrient supply in order to be able to adjust their physiology and compete for resource acquisition and biomass increase. Among the microorganisms responding to the atmospheric inputs, diazotrophs were stimulated by both wet and dry atmospheric deposition, although N2 fixation was shown to be only responsible for a few percent of the induced new production. Dust deposition modified the bacterial community structure by selectively stimulating and inhibiting certain members of the bacterial community. The microbial food web dynamics were strongly impacted by dust deposition. The carbon budget indicates that the net heterotrophic character (i.e., ratio of net primary production to bacteria respiration < 1) of the tested waters remained (or was even increased) after simulated wet or dry deposition despite the significant stimulation of autotrophs after wet events. This indicates that the oligotrophic tested waters submitted to dust deposition are a net CO2 source. Nonetheless, the system was able to export organic material, half of it being associated with lithogenic particles through aggregation processes between lithogenic particles and organic matter. These observations support the "ballast" hypothesis and suggest that this "lithogenic carbon pump" could represent a major contribution of the global carbon export to deep waters in areas receiving high rates of atmospheric deposition. Furthermore, a theoretical microbial food web model showed that, all other things being equal, carbon, nitrogen and phosphorus stoichiometric mismatch along the food chain can have a substantial impact on the ecosystem response to nutrient inputs from dusts, with changes in the biomass of all biological compartments by a factor of ∼ 2-4, and shifts from net autotrophy to net heterotrophy. Although the model was kept simple, it highlights the importance of stoichiometric constrains on the dynamics of microbial food webs.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)425-442
Number of pages18
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jan 29 2014

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Earth-Surface Processes


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