Southern Ocean phytoplankton physiology in a changing climate

The Southern Ocean (SO) is a major sink for anthropogenic atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2), potentially harbouring even greater potential for additional sequestration of CO2 through enhanced phytoplankton productivity. In the SO, primary productivity is primarily driven by bottom up processes (physical and chemical conditions) which are spatially and temporally heterogeneous. Due to a paucity of trace metals (such as iron) and high variability in light, much of the SO is characterised by an ecological paradox of high macronutrient concentrations yet uncharacteristically low chlorophyll concentrations. It is expected that with increased anthropogenic CO2 emissions and the coincident warming, the major physical and chemical process that govern the SO will alter, influencing the biological capacity and functioning of the ecosystem. This review focuses on the SO primary producers and the bottom up processes that underpin their health and productivity. It looks at the major physico-chemical drivers of change in the SO, and based on current physiological knowledge, explores how these changes will likely manifest in phytoplankton, specifically, what are the physiological changes and floristic shifts that are likely to ensue and how this may translate into changes in the carbon sink capacity, net primary productivity and functionality of the SO.

Petrou K., Kranz S. A., Trimborn S., Hassler C. S., Blanco Ameijeiras S., Sackett O., Ralph P. J. & Davidson A. T., in press. Southern Ocean phytoplankton physiology in a changing climate. Journal of Plant Physiology. Article (subscription required).

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