Phytoplankton growth is limited by low concentrations of iron (Fe) in about 40% of the world’s oceans. The northeast subarctic Pacific Ocean embodies one of these Fe-limited regions that are termed High Nutrient – Low Chlorophyll (HNLC). Its ecosystem is dominated by small phytoplankton cells, such as Prymnesiophyceae, and is characterized by weak summer concentrations of chlorophyll a and high concentrations of macronutrients. It has repeatedly been shown that Fe additions in HNLC zones, using various artificial forms of Fe (commonly FeSO4), stimulate the growth and modify the structure of planktonic communities by favoring the blooming of large phytoplankton cells such as diatoms. The impacts brought about on the planktonic communities by these Fe additions have the potential of influencing large-scale climate regulating mechanisms, namely the biological carbon pump and the oceanic production of dimethylsulfide (DMS). Dust arising from northern Chinese deserts is well recognized as an important albeit sporadic source of Fe for the northeast Pacific Ocean. Despite their potential importance, the direct influence of these dust deposition events on the planktonic ecosystem of the northeast Pacific has never been studied before. This represents a serious shortcoming considering that, Fe associated with dust is scantily soluble in seawater, the bioavailable proportion of Fe in dust remains unknown, and dust may exert an inhibiting effect on phytoplankton. My thesis thus proposes, firstly, to conduct avant-garde measurements of the fertilization effects of a natural Asian dust gradient on plankton communities of the northeast Pacific. My first experiment shows that the Fe contained in Asian dust is bioavailable and that a deposition event, equivalent to naturally occurring spring depositions in the northeast Pacific, may result in a significant stimulation of nutrient uptake and growth by phytoplankton. My results also demonstrate that the addition of 0,5 mg L-1 of dust may induce as much biomass accumulation as what is observed during large scale fertilizing experiments utilizing FeSO4. However, small-celled phytoplankton assemblages are stimulated by Fe fertilizations, more so through FeSO4 than through dust additions demonstrating the flaws of this proxy in accurately representing Asian dust. In a second step, I focused my attention on an alternative source of atmospheric Fe, specifically volcanic ash. My interest for this subject was instigated by observations of a spectacular bloom occurring in my study region, the northeast Pacific, and associated to the 2008 eruption of the Kasatochi volcano located on one of the Aleutian Islands. I quantified the direct effects of volcanic ash on the plankton community of the northeast Pacific. My results show that the Fe contained in these ashes is also bioavailable for phytoplankton and that this source of Fe may be as important as desert dust in regulating the growth of phytoplankton in this part of the global ocean on a millennial scale. Thirdly, I assessed the manner in which ocean acidification could modulate, on a short timescale, the responses of the plankton communities to natural Fe depositions highlighted in this thesis. In order to do so, I performed dust enrichments in seawater at the contemporary seawater pH of 8.0 and acidified to a pH of 7.8. My results show a reduction in phytoplankton growth rate in the acidified environment with no conspicuous changes to community structure. The additions of dust and ash, as well as the variations in pH, had little significant impacts on the production of DMS or its precursor dimethylsulfoniopropionate (DMSP). This lack of response could likely be attributable to the short timescale (4 days) of investigation carried out. As a whole, the results of this thesis show that Fe contained in various natural atmospheric sources is bioavailable to phytoplankton of the northeast Pacific Ocean. Furthermore, realistic deposition rates may distinctly stimulate phytoplankton growth in the first days following dust storms or volcanic eruptions. Finally, results from the multi-stressor experiments (Fe/acidification) I carried out suggest a demonstrable robustness of surface plankton communities to the pH reduction predicted before the turn of this century.
Mélançon J., 2016. Impacts des dépositions atmosphériques de fer sur les assemblages phytoplanctoniques et la production de diméthylsulfure dans le Pacifique Nord-Est contemporain et dans le contexte de l’acidification des océans. PhD thesis, Université Laval, 133 p. Thesis.