Collaborative Research: Bloom Dynamics and Food Web Structure in the Ross Sea: Primary Productivity, New Production and Bacterial Growth
The growing season for phytoplankton in polar oceans is short, but intense. There is an increasing body of evidence that in many Antarctic habitats, the most active period may be very early in the season, a period that has not been emphasized in previous investigations. This project is part of an interdisciplinary program that focuses on the dynamics of the spring phytoplankton bloom in a highly productive subsystem of the Antarctic, the Ross Sea. The overall program will test hypotheses related to the initiation of the phytoplankton bloom shortly after the onset of ice melt, the mechanisms controlling phytoplankton growth and productivity in spring, the implications and short-term fate of high productivity in spring, and the transition from spring to midsummer conditions. This component will conduct a set of process-oriented experiments designed to elucidate the controls of phytoplankton productivity, growth and accumulation as well as the mechanisms which control bacterial abundance and productivity in Antarctic waters. Specifically, the relative photosynthetic and nutrient (nitrate, ammonium) characteristics of diatom- vs. Phaeocystis- dominated assemblages will be examined to test if Phaeocystis simply grows faster under spring conditions in the Ross Sea. Phytoplankton and bacterial biomass, productivity and their interactions will be measured to elucidate the complex physical-chemical-biological interactions which occur. Substantial understanding of the mechanisms controlling phytoplankton growth and productivity in spring, the implications and short-term fate of high productivity in spring, and the transition from spring to midsummer conditions will result from this research. Finally, because the Antarctic is the ocean's largest high-nutrient, low biomass system, and hence has the greatest potential for sequestering carbon dioxide, knowledge of the dynamics of the Ross Sea phytoplankton will also increase our understanding of the carbo n cycle of the Southern Ocean.
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