We report results from time-series decay and sequential leaching experiments of laboratory cultured and coastal plankton to elucidate the mechanisms controlling barite formation in seawater. Batch-cultured diatoms ( Stephanopyxis palmerina ) and coccolithophorids (Emiliania huxleyi) were let to decay in the dark for 8-10 weeks, suspended in aerated seawater. The development of barite crystals was monitored by Scanning Electron Microscopy (SEM). A similar experiment was conducted with plankton collected during the spring-bloom in Vineyard Sound (MA). In addition to SEM, suspended particles were sequentially leached for Ba (distilled water rinse; 10% (v/v) HNO3 rinse at room temperature; 30% (v/v) HCl at 80??C overnight; 50% (v/v) HNO3 at 80??C overnight) immediately after collection, and after 10-week decay in seawater, in seawater poisoned with HgCl2, and in seawater spiked with 135Ba. Both experiments showed an increase in the number of barite crystals during decay. The spring-bloom plankton had initially a large pool of labile Ba, soluble in distilled water and cold dilute HNO3 that was lost from the plankton after 10-week decay in both axenic and nonaxenic conditions. In contrast, Ba in the decayed plankton samples was predominantly in forms extracted by hot HCl and hot HNO3 acids, which were attributed to presence of barite Ba and refractory organic Ba respectively. The increase in barite crystal counts under a Scanning Electron Microscope (SEM), the increase in HCl extractable Ba relative to organic carbon, and the loss of a large fraction of Ba during plankton decay suggest that living plankton consists of a relatively large pool of labile Ba, which is rapidly released during plankton decomposition and acts as the main source of Ba for barite formation in supersaturated microenvironments. Since mass balance indicates that only a small proportion (2 to 4%) of the labile-Ba pool is converted to barite, the availability of microenvironments that could locally concentrate Ba released by plankton decay seems to be the main limiting factor in barite precipitation. ?? 2003 Elsevier Science Ltd.