• arctic;
  • modelling;
  • ocean;
  • plankton;
  • productivity

[1] As a part of Arctic Ocean Intercomparison Project, results from five coupled physical and biological ocean models were compared for the Arctic domain, defined here as north of 66.6°N. The global and regional (Arctic Ocean (AO)–only) models included in the intercomparison show similar features in terms of the distribution of present-day water column–integrated primary production and are broadly in agreement with in situ and satellite-derived data. However, the physical factors controlling this distribution differ between the models. The intercomparison between models finds substantial variation in the depth of winter mixing, one of the main mechanisms supplying inorganic nutrients over the majority of the AO. Although all models manifest similar level of light limitation owing to general agreement on the ice distribution, the amount of nutrients available for plankton utilization is different between models. Thus the participating models disagree on a fundamental question: which factor, light or nutrients, controls present-day Arctic productivity. These differences between models may not be detrimental in determining present-day AO primary production since both light and nutrient limitation are tightly coupled to the presence of sea ice. Essentially, as long as at least one of the two limiting factors is reproduced correctly, simulated total primary production will be close to that observed. However, if the retreat of Arctic sea ice continues into the future as expected, a decoupling between sea ice and nutrient limitation will occur, and the predictive capabilities of the models may potentially diminish unless more effort is spent on verifying the mechanisms of nutrient supply. Our study once again emphasizes the importance of a realistic representation of ocean physics, in particular vertical mixing, as a necessary foundation for ecosystem modeling and predictions.