The pelagic province of the Southern Ocean generally has low levels of primary production attributable to a short growing season in the higher latitudes, a deep mixed layer, and iron limitation. Exceptions include phytoplankton blooms in the marginal ice zone (MIZ) during spring and summer sea ice retreat. The prevailing hypothesis as to the drivers of the blooms is that sea ice retreat increases the vertical stability of the water column through the production of melt water and provides shelter from wind-mixing in areas of partial sea ice coverage. These conditions are favorable to phytoplankton growth by allowing them to maintain their position in the upper reaches of the water column. This work investigates the drivers MIZ blooms using a biochemically-coupled global circulation model. Results support the hypothesis in that physical conditions related to a shallow, vertically stable water column (e.g. mixed layer depth and available light) were the most significant predictors of bloom dynamics, while nutrient limitation was of lesser importance. We estimate that MIZ blooms account for 15% of yearly net primary production in the Southern Ocean and that the earlier phases of the MIZ bloom, occurring under partial ice coverage and invisible to remote sensing, account for about two-thirds of this production. MIZ blooms were not found to enhance depth-integrated net primary production when compared to similar ecological provinces outside of the MIZ, although the elevated phytoplankton concentrations in surface waters are hypothesized to provide important feeding habitats for grazing organisms, such as krill.
AWI Organizations > Climate Sciences > Junior Research Group: Phytooptics