04 Jan 2023
04 Jan 2023
Status: this preprint is currently under review for the journal BG.

Seasonal cycles of biogeochemical fluxes in the Scotia Sea, Southern Ocean: A stable isotope approach

Anna Belcher1, Sian Henley2, Katharine Hendry1,3, Marianne Wootton4, Lisa Friberg3, Ursula Dallman2, Tong Wang3, and Clara Manno1 Anna Belcher et al.
  • 1British Antarctic Survey, Cambridge, CB3 0ET, UK
  • 2School of Geosciences, University of Edinburgh, Edinburgh EH9 3FE, UK
  • 3University of Bristol, Bristol, BS8 1RJ, UK
  • 4Marine Biological Association, Plymouth, PL1 2PB, UK

Abstract. The biological carbon pump is responsible for much of the decadal variability in the ocean carbon dioxide (CO2) sink, driving the transfer of carbon from the atmosphere to the deep ocean. A mechanistic understanding of the ecological drivers of particulate organic carbon (POC) flux is key to both the assessment of the magnitude of the ocean CO2 sink, as well as for accurate predictions as to how this will change with changing climate. This is particularly important in the Southern Ocean, a key region for the uptake of CO2 and the supply of nutrients to the global thermocline. In this study we examine sediment trap derived particle fluxes and stable isotope signatures of carbon (C), nitrogen (N) and biogenic silica (BSi) at a study site in the biologically productive waters of the northern Scotia Sea in the Southern Ocean. Both deep (2000 m) and shallow (400 m) sediment traps exhibited two main peaks in POC, particulate nitrogen and BSi flux, one in austral spring and one in summer, reflecting periods of high surface productivity. Particulate fluxes and isotopic compositions were similar in both deep and shallow sediment traps, highlighting that most remineralisation occurred in the upper 400 m of the water column. Differences in the seasonal cycles of isotopic compositions of C, N and Si provide insights into the degree of coupling of these key nutrients. We measured increasing isotopic enrichment of POC and BSi in spring, consistent with fractionation during biological uptake. Since we observed isotopically light particulate material in the traps in summer, we suggest physically-mediated replenishment of lighter isotopes of key nutrients, enabling full expression of the isotopic fractionation associated with biological uptake. The change in the nutrient and remineralisation regimes, indicated by the different isotopic baselines of the spring and summer productive periods suggests to a change in the source region of material reaching the traps, and associated shifts in phytoplankton community structure. This, combined with the occurrence of advective inputs at certain times of the year, highlights the need to make synchronous measurements of physical processes to be able to better track changes in the source regions of sinking particulate material. We also highlight the need to conduct particle specific (e.g. faecal pellet, phytoplankton detritus, zooplankton moults) isotopic analysis to improve the use of this tool in assessing particle composition of sinking particulate material and develop our understanding of the drivers of biogeochemical fluxes.

Anna Belcher et al.

Status: open (until 19 Feb 2023)

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Anna Belcher et al.

Anna Belcher et al.


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Short summary
The oceans play a crucial role in the uptake of atmospheric carbon dioxide, particularly the Southern Ocean. The biological pumping of carbon from the surface to the deep ocean is key to this. Using sediment trap samples from the Scotia Sea, we examine biogeochemical fluxes of carbon, nitrogen and biogenic silica, and their stable isotope compositions. We find phytoplankton community structure and physically mediated processes are important controls on particulate fluxes to the deep ocean.