Estimates of Southern Ocean primary production—constraints from predator carbon demand and nutrient drawdown

In view of the wide range of estimates for the total primary production for the Southern Ocean south of the Subantarctic Front—current estimates range from 1.2 to 3.5 Gtonne C year−1—we have examined two indirect methods for assessing primary production. First, we have estimated the primary production needed to sustain the carbon requirements of the endotherm top predators in the ecosystem. Estimation of the carbon requirements for crabeater seals of about 7 Mtonne C year−1 is extrapolated to a value for all endotherm predators of 15–30 Mtonne C year−1. Current data indicate that 70–80% of the diet of this suite of predators is zooplankton (predominantly the euphausiid krill), making for highly efficient transfer from primary production to top predators. Our best estimate of Southern Ocean primary production by this method is of the order of 1.7 Gtonne C year−1, or an averaged areal primary production of about 30–40 g C m−2 year−1. Our second approach is to estimate primary production from the drawdown of inorganic nutrients, based on the limited suite of studies from which an annual nutrient deficit can be calculated. Again, this indicates annual primary production of the order of 1.5 Gtonne. Although both methods have inherent uncertainties, taken together they provide a relatively robust constraint on annual primary production. For both methods to underestimate primary production by the 1–1.5 Gtonne C implied by the higher current estimates, carbon export from the Southern Ocean pelagic ecosystem would need to be much higher than is normally found in other oceans.


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Authors: Priddle, J., Boyd, I.L., Whitehouse, M.J, Murphy, E.J. ORCIDORCID record for E.J. Murphy, Croxall, J.P

On this site: Eugene Murphy
1 January, 1998
Journal of Marine Systems / 17
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