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Biogeosciences An interactive open-access journal of the European Geosciences Union
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Volume 15, issue 14 | Copyright
Biogeosciences, 15, 4647-4660, 2018
© Author(s) 2018. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

Research article 30 Jul 2018

Research article | 30 Jul 2018

Seasonal development of iron limitation in the sub-Antarctic zone

Thomas J. Ryan-Keogh1,2, Sandy J. Thomalla1,3, Thato N. Mtshali1, Natasha R. van Horsten1,4, and Hazel J. Little2 Thomas J. Ryan-Keogh et al.
  • 1Southern Ocean Carbon and Climate Observatory, Natural Resources and Environment, CSIR, Rosebank, Cape Town, 7700, South Africa
  • 2Department of Oceanography, University of Cape Town, Rondebosch, Cape Town, 7701, South Africa
  • 3Marine Research Institute, University of Cape Town, Rondebosch, Cape Town, 7701, South Africa
  • 4Department of Earth Sciences, Stellenbosch University, Stellenbosch, 7600, South Africa

Abstract. The seasonal and sub-seasonal dynamics of iron availability within the sub-Antarctic zone (SAZ;  ∼ 40–45°S) play an important role in the distribution, biomass and productivity of the phytoplankton community. The variability in iron availability is due to an interplay between winter entrainment, diapycnal diffusion, storm-driven entrainment, atmospheric deposition, iron scavenging and iron recycling processes. Biological observations utilizing grow-out iron addition incubation experiments were performed at different stages of the seasonal cycle within the SAZ to determine whether iron availability at the time of sampling was sufficient to meet biological demands at different times of the growing season. Here we demonstrate that at the beginning of the growing season, there is sufficient iron to meet the demands of the phytoplankton community, but that as the growing season develops the mean iron concentrations in the mixed layer decrease and are insufficient to meet biological demand. Phytoplankton increase their photosynthetic efficiency and net growth rates following iron addition from midsummer to late summer, with no differences determined during early summer, suggestive of seasonal iron depletion and an insufficient resupply of iron to meet biological demand. The result of this is residual macronutrients at the end of the growing season and the prevalence of the high-nutrient low-chlorophyll (HNLC) condition. We conclude that despite the prolonged growing season characteristic of the SAZ, which can extend into late summer/early autumn, results nonetheless suggest that iron supply mechanisms are insufficient to maintain potential maximal growth and productivity throughout the season.

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Short summary
The availability of iron in the Southern Ocean constrains the overall extent and magnitude of the phytoplankton bloom. Uncertainty remains over the dominant supply mechanisms, which are expected to be altered by climate change. Nutrient addition experiments confirm that iron limitation is seasonal in nature, with increased responses to iron addition in late summer. This is driven by variability in the supply mechanisms across the growing season, which fail to meet the phytoplankton demand.
The availability of iron in the Southern Ocean constrains the overall extent and magnitude of...