Primary production in Southern Ocean waters


  • Kevin R. Arrigo,

  • Denise Worthen,

  • Anthony Schnell,

  • Michael P. Lizotte


The Southern Ocean forms a link between major ocean basins, is the site of deep and intermediate water ventilation, and is one of the few areas where macronutrients are underutilized by phytoplankton. Paradoxically, prior estimates of annual primary production are insufficient to support the Antarctic food web. Here we present results from a primary production algorithm based upon monthly climatological phytoplankton pigment concentrations from the coastal zone color scanner (CZCS). Phytoplankton production was forced using monthly temperature profiles and a radiative transfer model that computed changes in photosynthetically usable radiation at each CZCS pixel location. Average daily productivity (g C m−2 d−1) and total monthly production (Tg C month−1) were calculated for each of five geographic sectors (defined by longitude) and three ecological provinces (defined by sea ice coverage and bathymetry as the pelagic province, the marginal ice zone, and the shelf). Annual primary production in the Southern Ocean (south of 50°S) was calculated to be 4414 Tg C yr−1, 4–5 times higher than previous estimates made from in situ data. Primary production was greatest in the month of December (816 Tg C month−1) and in the pelagic province (contributing 88.6% of the annual primary production). Because of their small size the marginal ice zone (MIZ) and the shelf contributed only 9.5% and 1.8%, respectively, despite exhibiting higher daily production rates. The Ross Sea was the most productive region, accounting for 28% of annual production. The fourfold increase in the estimate of primary production for the Southern Ocean likely makes the notion of an “Antarctic paradox” (primary production insufficient to support the populations of Southern Ocean grazers, including krill, copepods, microzooplankton, etc.) obsolete.