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Rapid and early export of Phaeocystis antarctica blooms in the Ross Sea, Antarctica


The Southern Ocean is very important for the potential sequestration of carbon dioxide in the oceans1 and is expected to be vulnerable to changes in carbon export forced by anthropogenic climate warming2. Annual phytoplankton blooms in seasonal ice zones are highly productive and are thought to contribute significantly to pCO2 drawdown in the Southern Ocean. Diatoms are assumed to be the most important phytoplankton class with respect to export production in the Southern Ocean; however, the colonial prymnesiophyte Phaeocystis antarctica regularly forms huge blooms in seasonal ice zones and coastal Antarctic waters3. There is little evidence regarding the fate of carbon produced by P. antarctica in the Southern Ocean, although remineralization in the upper water column has been proposed to be the main pathway in polar waters4,5. Here we present evidence for early and rapid carbon export from P. antarctica blooms to deep water and sediments in the Ross Sea. Carbon sequestration from P. antarctica blooms may influence the carbon cycle in the Southern Ocean, especially if projected climatic changes lead to an alteration in the structure of the phytoplankton community6,7.

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Figure 1: Integral values (depth 0–150 m) of chlorophyll a (a), 19′-hexanoyloxyfucoxanthin (19′-hex) (b), carbon export (c) and dimethylsulphide (DMS) (d) measured during the ROAVERRS-96-6 cruise (18 December 1996 to 8 January 1997).
Figure 2: Vertical profiles of P. antarctica cell numbers, chlorophyll a and DMS concentrations, and Fv/Fm near the Ross Ice Shelf (76.1° S, 174° W) on 24 December 1996.
Figure 3


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We thank D. Jones, M. Geesey and J. Maucher for technical assistance with DMS/P and HPLC pigment analyses and data reduction. We also thank J. Borkowski and the crew of the RVIB Nathaniel B. Palmer.

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Correspondence to G. R. DiTullio.

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DiTullio, G., Grebmeier, J., Arrigo, K. et al. Rapid and early export of Phaeocystis antarctica blooms in the Ross Sea, Antarctica. Nature 404, 595–598 (2000).

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