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Phytoplankton community structure and stocks in the Southern Ocean (30-80E) determined by CHEMTAX analysis of HPLC pigment signatures

journal contribution
posted on 2023-05-17, 13:28 authored by Simon WrightSimon Wright, van den Enden, R, Pearce, I, Davidson, A, Fiona Scott, Karen WestwoodKaren Westwood
The geographic distribution, stocks and vertical profiles of phytoplankton of the seasonal ice zone off east Antarctica were determined during the 2005–2006 austral summer during the Baseline Research on Oceanography, Krill and the Environment-West (BROKE-West) survey. CHEMTAX analysis of HPLC pigment samples, coupled with microscopy, permitted a detailed survey along seven transects covering an extensive area between 30°E and 80°E, from 62°S to the coast. Significant differences were found in the composition and stocks of populations separated by the Southern Boundary of the Antarctic Circumpolar Current (SB), as well as a small influence of the Weddell Gyre in the western sector of the ‘zone south of the Antarctic Circumpolar Current’ (SACCZ). Within the SACCZ, we identified a primary bloom under the ice, a secondary bloom near the ice edge, and an open-ocean deep population. The similarity of distribution patterns across all transects allowed us to generalise a hypothesized sequence for the season. The primary phytoplankton bloom, with stocks of Chl a up to 239 mg m−2, occurred about 35 days before complete disappearance of the sea ice, and contained both cells from the water column and those released from melting ice. These blooms were composed of haptophytes (in particular, colonies and gametes of Phaeocystis antarctica), diatoms and cryptophytes (or the cryptophyte symbiont-containing ciliate Myrionecta rubrum). Aggregates released by melting ice quickly sank from the upper water column and Chl a stocks declined to 56–92 mg m−2, but the bloom of diatoms and, to a lesser extent, cryptophytes continued until about 20 days after ice melt. The disappearance of sea ice coincided with a sharp increase in P. antarctica and grazing, as indicated by increasing phaeophytin a and phaeophorbide a. Chlorophyllide content suggests that the diatom bloom then senesced, probably due to iron exhaustion. Stocks rapidly declined, apparently due to grazing krill that moved southward following the retreating sea ice. We suggest that grazing of the bloom and export of faecal pellets stripped the upper water column of iron (as suggested by low Fv/Fm ratios and CHEMTAX pigment ratios in Haptophytes – iron was not measured). Thus, export of iron by grazing, and possibly sedimentation, created a southward migrating iron gradient, limiting growth in the upper water column. North of the postulated iron gradient, a nanoflagellate community developed at depth, with Chl a stocks from 36–49 mg m−2. This community was probably based on regenerated production, sustained by residual and/or upwelling iron, as indicated by a close correspondence between distributions of Chl a and profiles of Fv/Fm. The community consisted of haptophytes (chiefly Phaeocystis gametes), dinoflagellates, prasinophytes, cryptophytes, and some small diatoms. Selective grazing by krill may have fashioned and maintained the community. North of the SB, Chl a ranged from 40–67 mg m−2 and was found predominantly in the mixed layer, but Fv/Fm ratios remained low, suggesting the community of P. antarctica and diatoms was iron-limited. These interpretations provide a cogent explanation for the composition and structure of late summer microbial populations in the marginal ice zone.


Publication title

Deep-Sea Research. Part 2: Topical Studies in Oceanography










Institute for Marine and Antarctic Studies


Pergamon-Elsevier Science Ltd

Place of publication

The Boulevard, Langford Lane, Kidlington, Oxford, England, Ox5 1Gb

Rights statement

Crown Copyright 2009

Repository Status

  • Restricted

Socio-economic Objectives

Effects of climate change on Antarctic and sub-Antarctic environments (excl. social impacts)

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