Collaborative Research: Understanding the Massive Phytoplankton Blooms over the Australian-Antarctic Ridge
Phytoplankton blooms over the AAR
Part 1. Phytoplankton blooms throughout the world support critical marine ecosystems and help remove harmful CO2 from the atmosphere. Traditionally, it has been assumed that phytoplankton blooms in the Southern Ocean are stimulated by iron from either the continental margin or sea-ice. However, recent work demonstrates that hydrothermal vents may be an additional iron source for phytoplankton blooms. This enhancement of phytoplankton productivity by different iron sources supports rich marine ecosystems and leads to the sequestration of C in the deep ocean. Our proposed work will uncover the importance of hydrothermal activity in stimulating a large phytoplankton blooms along the southern boundary of the Antarctic Circumpolar Current just north of the Ross Sea. It will also lead towards a better understanding of the overall impact of hydrothermal activity on the C cycle in the Southern Ocean, which appears to trigger local hotspots of enhanced biological activity which are a potential as a sink for atmospheric CO2. This project will encourage the participation of underrepresented groups in ocean sciences, as well as providing educational opportunities for high school and undergraduate students, through three different programs. Stanford University’s Summer Undergraduate Research in Geoscience and Engineering (SURGE) program provides undergraduates from different US universities and diverse cultural backgrounds the opportunity to spend a summer doing a research project at Stanford. The Stanford Earth Summer Undergraduate Research Program (SESUR) is for Stanford undergraduates who want to learn more about environmental science by performing original research. Finally, Stanford’s School of Earth, Energy, and Environmental Sciences High School Internship Program enables young scientists to serve as mentors, prepares high school students for college, and serves to strengthen the partnership between Stanford and local schools. Students present their results at the Fall AGU meeting as part of the AGU Bright STaRS program. This project will form the basis of at least two Ph.D. dissertations. The Stanford student will participate in Stanford’s Woods Institute Rising Environmental Leaders Program (RELP), a year-round program that helps graduate students hone their leadership and communication skills to maximize the impact of their research. The graduate student will also participate in Stanford’s Grant Writing Academy where they will receive training in developing and articulating research strategies to tackle important scientific questions. Part 2. This interdisciplinary program combines satellite and ship-based measurements of a large poorly understood phytoplankton bloom (the AAR bloom) in the northwestern Ross Sea sector of the Southern Ocean with a detailed modeling study of the physical processes linking deep dissolved iron (DFe) reservoirs to the surface phytoplankton bloom. Prior to the cruise, we will implement a numerical model (CROCO) for our study region so that we can better understand the circulation, plumes, turbulence, fronts, and eddy field around the AAR bloom and how they transport and mix hydrothermally produced DFe vertically. Post cruise, observations of the vertical distribution of 3He (combined with DMn and DFe), will be used as initial conditions for a passive tracer in the model, and tracer dispersal will be assessed to better quantify the role of the various turbulent processes in upwelling DFe-rich waters to the upper ocean. The satellite-based component of the program will characterize the broader sampling region before, during, and after our cruise. During the cruise, our automated software system at Stanford University will download and process images of sea ice concentration, Chl a concentration, sea surface temperature (SST), and SSH and send them electronically to the ship. Operationally, our goal is to use all available satellite data and preliminary model results to target shipboard sampling both geographically and temporally to optimize sampling of the AAR bloom. We will use available BGC-Argo float data to help characterize the AAR bloom. In collaboration with SOCCOM, we will deploy additional BGC-Argo floats (if available) during our transit through the study area to allow us to better characterize the bloom. The centerpiece of our program will be a 40-day process study cruise in austral summer. The cruise will consist of an initial “radiator” pattern of hydrographic surveys/sections along the AAR followed by CTDs to selected submarine volcanoes. When/if eddies are identified, they will be sampled either during or after the initial surveys. The radiator pattern, or parts thereof, will be repeated 2-3 times. Hydrographic survey stations will include vertical profiles of temperature, salinity, oxygen, oxidation-reduction potential, light scatter, and PAR (400-700 nm). Samples will be collected for trace metals, ligands, 3He, and total suspended matter. Where intense hydrothermal activity is identified, samples for pH and total CO2 will also be collected to characterize the hydrothermal system. Water samples will be collected for characterization of macronutrients, and phytoplankton physiology, abundance, species composition, and size. During transits, we will continuously measure atmospheric conditions, current speed and direction, and surface SST, salinity, pCO2, and fluorescence from the ship’s systems to provide detailed maps of these parameters. The ship will be used as a platform for conducting phytoplankton DFe bioassay experiments at key stations throughout the study region both inside and outside the bloom. We will also perform detailed comparisons of algal taxonomic composition, physiology, and size structure inside and outside the bloom to determine the potential importance of each community on local biogeochemistry.
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