Particle size and settling speed determine the rate of particulate mass transfer from the ocean surface to the sea bed. Turbulent shear in the ocean can act on large, faster-settling flocculated particles to break them into slower-settling primary particles or sub-aggregates. However, it is difficult to understand the disruption behavior of aggregates and their response to varying shear forces due to the complex ocean environment. A study was conducted to simulate the disruption behavior of marine aggregates in the mixed layer of the ocean. The breakup process was investigated by aggregating and disrupting flocs of bentonite clay particles in a rotating and oscillating cylindrical tank 10 cm in diameter filled with salt water. This laboratory tank, which operated based on an extension of Stokes’ second problem inside a cylinder, created laminar oscillating flow superimposed on a constant rotation. This motion allowed the bentonite particles to aggregate near the center of the tank but also exposed large aggregates to high shear forces near the wall. A high-speed camera system was used, along with particle tracking measurements and image processing techniques, to capture the breakup of the large particle aggregates and locate their radial position. The breakup response of large aggregates and the sizes of their daughter particles after breakup were quantified using the facility. The disruption strength of the aggregated particles is presented and discussed relative to their exposure to varying amounts of laminar shear.

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