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Free Content Physical forcing of phytoplankton community structure and primary production in continental shelf waters of the Western Antarctic Peninsula

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Analyses of a multidisciplinary data set, collected in continental shelf waters of the Western Antarctic Peninsula (WAP) during austral summer of January 1993, identified a previously unrecognized forcing mechanism that sets up a physical and chemical structure that supports and assures site-specific diatom-dominated communities and enhanced biological production (Prézelin et al., 2000). This forcing is active when the southern boundary of the Antarctic Circumpolar Current (ACC) flows along the shelf edge, thereby facilitating onshelf bottom intrusions of nutrient-rich Upper Circumpolar Deep Water (UCDW), which then is upwelled or mixed into the upper water column. At times or locations where UCDW is not introduced to the upper water column, diatoms no longer dominate phytoplankton assemblages over the mid- to outer WAP continental shelf. This analysis extends the area and seasons studied through similar analyses of multidisciplinary data sets collected on four additional cruises to the WAP that cover all seasons. Results show that onshelf intrusions of UCDW: (1) occur in other regions of the WAP continental shelf; (2) are episodic; (3) are forced by nonseasonal physical processes; and (4) produce areas of diatom-dominated phytoplankton assemblages and enhanced primary production. At times, multiple intrusions are observed on the WAP continental shelf, and each event may be in a different stage. Further, the occurrence of an intrusion event in one area does not necessarily imply that similar events are ongoing in other areas along the WAP shelf. The UCDW bottom intrusions originate along the outer shelf but they can extend into the inner shelf region because the deep troughs that transect the WAP shelf provide connections between the inner and outer shelf. The boundary between the intruded water and the shelf water is variable in location because of the episodic nature of the onshelf intrusions, and is moved farther inshore as an event occurs. These observations show clearly that the phytoplankton community structure on the WAP shelf is determined by physical forcing and that primary production is likely to be considerably greater than previously believed. Moreover, variability in this physical forcing, such as may occur via climate change, can potentially affect the overall biological production of the WAP continental shelf system.

Document Type: Research Article


Publication date: 2004-05-01

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  • The Journal of Marine Research publishes peer-reviewed research articles covering a broad array of topics in physical, biological and chemical oceanography. Articles that deal with processes, as well as those that report significant observations, are welcome. In the area of biology, studies involving coupling between ecological and physical processes are preferred over those that report systematics. Authors benefit from thorough reviews of their manuscripts, where an attempt is made to maximize clarity. The time between submission and publication is kept to a minimum; there is no page charge.
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