University Of Tasmania
140798 - Subsurface Chlorophyll-a Maxima in the Southern Ocean.pdf (3.46 MB)
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Subsurface chlorophyll-a maxima in the Southern Ocean

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Our review of the literature has revealed Southern Ocean subsurface chlorophyll-a maxima (SCMs) to be an annually recurrent feature throughout the basin. Most of these SCMs are different to the “typical” SCMs observed in the tropics, which are maintained by the nutrient-light co-limitation of phytoplankton growth. Rather, we have found that SCMs are formed by other processes including diatom aggregation, sea-ice retreat, eddies, subduction events and photo-acclimation. At a local scale, these SCMs can facilitate increased downward carbon export, primary production and food availability for higher trophic levels. A large proportion of Southern Ocean SCMs appear to be sustained by aggregates of large diatoms that form under severe iron limitation in the seasonal mixed layer. The ability of large diatoms to regulate their buoyancy must play a role in the development of these SCMs as they appear to increase buoyancy at the SCM and thus avoid further sinking with the decline of the spring bloom or naturally iron fertilized blooms. These SCMs remain largely unobserved by satellites and it seems that ship-based sampling may not be able to fully capture their biomass. In the context of the Marine Ecosystem Assessment of the Southern Ocean it is important to consider that this phenomenon is missing in our current understanding of Southern Ocean ecology and future climate scenarios. The broader implications of SCMs for Southern Ocean ecology will only be revealed through basin-wide observations. This can only be achieved through an integrated observation system that is able to harness the detailed information encapsulated in ship-based sampling, with the increased observational capacity of fluorometers on autonomous platforms such as those in the biogeochemical Argo (BGC-Argo) and the Marine Mammals Exploring the Ocean Pole to pole (MEOP) programs. The main challenge toward achieving this is the uncertainties associated with translating fluorescence to chlorophyll-a concentrations. Until this translation is resolved, the reporting of subsurface fluorescence maxima (SFMs) in place of SCMs could still yield valuable insights with careful interpretation.


Publication title

Frontiers in Marine Science





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Institute for Marine and Antarctic Studies


Frontiers Research Foundation

Place of publication


Rights statement

Copyright © 2020 Baldry, Strutton, Hill and Boyd. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0)

Repository Status

  • Open

Socio-economic Objectives

Climate variability (excl. social impacts)