Dead zone or oasis in the open ocean? Zooplankton distribution and migration in low-oxygen modewater eddies
Abstract. The eastern tropical North Atlantic (ETNA) features a mesopelagic oxygen minimum zone (OMZ) at approximately 300–600 m depth. Here, oxygen concentrations rarely fall below 40 µmol O2 kg−1, but are expected to decline under future projections of global warming. The recent discovery of mesoscale eddies that harbour a shallow suboxic (< 5 µmol O2 kg−1) OMZ just below the mixed layer could serve to identify zooplankton groups that may be negatively or positively affected by ongoing ocean deoxygenation. In spring 2014, a detailed survey of a suboxic anticyclonic modewater eddy (ACME) was carried out near the Cape Verde Ocean Observatory (CVOO), combining acoustic and optical profiling methods with stratified multinet hauls and hydrography. The multinet data revealed that the eddy was characterized by an approximately 1.5-fold increase in total area-integrated zooplankton abundance. At nighttime, when a large proportion of acoustic scatterers is ascending into the upper 150 m, a drastic reduction in mean volume backscattering (Sv) at 75 kHz (shipboard acoustic Doppler current profiler, ADCP) within the shallow OMZ of the eddy was evident compared to the nighttime distribution outside the eddy. Acoustic scatterers avoided the depth range between approximately 85 to 120 m, where oxygen concentrations were lower than approximately 20 µmol O2 kg−1, indicating habitat compression to the oxygenated surface layer. This observation is confirmed by time series observations of a moored ADCP (upward looking, 300 kHz) during an ACME transit at the CVOO mooring in 2010. Nevertheless, part of the diurnal vertical migration (DVM) from the surface layer to the mesopelagic continued through the shallow OMZ. Based upon vertically stratified multinet hauls, Underwater Vision Profiler (UVP5) and ADCP data, four strategies followed by zooplankton in response to in response to the eddy OMZ have been identified: (i) shallow OMZ avoidance and compression at the surface (e.g. most calanoid copepods, euphausiids); (ii) migration to the shallow OMZ core during daytime, but paying O2 debt at the surface at nighttime (e.g. siphonophores, Oncaea spp., eucalanoid copepods); (iii) residing in the shallow OMZ day and night (e.g. ostracods, polychaetes); and (iv) DVM through the shallow OMZ from deeper oxygenated depths to the surface and back. For strategy (i), (ii) and (iv), compression of the habitable volume in the surface may increase prey–predator encounter rates, rendering zooplankton and micronekton more vulnerable to predation and potentially making the eddy surface a foraging hotspot for higher trophic levels. With respect to long-term effects of ocean deoxygenation, we expect avoidance of the mesopelagic OMZ to set in if oxygen levels decline below approximately 20 µmol O2 kg−1. This may result in a positive feedback on the OMZ oxygen consumption rates, since zooplankton and micronekton respiration within the OMZ as well as active flux of dissolved and particulate organic matter into the OMZ will decline.