Primary productivity driven by escalating nutrient fluxes?

The decline of Arctic Ocean seasonal sea ice cover over the past two decades is a major indicator of polar climate change. Over the same period satellite observations have implied that net primary productivity (NPP) has increased by at least 30%. However, the observed increase in net primary productivity is greater than the predicted response to the declining sea ice, and the consequent lengthening of the ice-free season.

This implies that the nitrate-limited Arctic marine ecosystems may also be experiencing increasing nutrient availability. Whilst the impact of riverine nutrients is limited to coastal areas the greatest net primary production increases are observed over the shelf break regions. In these regions the primary source of nutrients is intruding Pacific and Atlantic Water. However this water can reside at depths of 100 or more metres and so physical mixing processes are required to transport nutrients up to the nutrient replete euphotic zone. This leads us to hypothesize that the observed increases in net primary production in the shelf break regions are driven by escalating nutrient fluxes from the deep waters (Atlantic, Pacific) into the euphotic zone as a result of enhanced vertical mixing rates. However, there is a very strong seasonality in the availability of light in the Arctic, due to both the formation of sea ice and also changing day length – from the perpetual darkness of winter to the mid-night sun – enabling accumulation of nutrients close to the surface in winter and so implying a strong seasonal cycle in nutrient fluxes to the surface layer. Furthermore our own turbulence measurements have shown mixing in the Arctic to be highly intermittant (and in consequence fluxes varying by up to 3 orders of magnitude) on timescales as short as an hour. These facts imply that in order to quantify the flux of nutrients from intermediate depths towards the sea surface measurements are required which resolve timescales from hourly to seasonally. The aim of this project is to test the hypothesis that increased primary production is promoted by increased availability of nutrients resulting from increased nutrient fluxes. Data will be collected to test this hypothesis by employing novel acoustic Doppler techniques developed at Bangor University to make turbulent mixing rate and nutrient flux estimates from moorings at contrasting locations around the Arctic shelf break, on timescales from hourly to the full seasonal cycle. These will then be compared to baseline measurements made at these locations by ourselves and others during the recent 2007/8 International Polar Year. The new measurements will be integrated with coincident fluorescence timeseries measurement, within the framework of a biogeochemical model, to quantify the impact of the observed changes in the nutrient environment, on net primary productivity, and to deduce intra-seasonal ecosystem responses to specific flux events.

Grant reference
Natural Environment Research Council
Total awarded
£101,544 GBP
Start date
30 Jun 2018
1 year 4 months 1 day
End date
31 Oct 2019