Seasonal variation in the biochemical composition of particulate material collected by sediment traps at Signy Island, Antarctica
Particulate material recovered over an 18-month period from sediment traps deployed at a shallow-water nearshore Antarctic site was analysed for photosynthetic pigments, aliphatic hydrocarbons and fatty acids. All components showed a distinct seasonal variation, with high recovery rates during the summer open-water phytoplankton bloom and low rates under winter fast ice. The amount of trapped material differed between the two summers, indicating inter-annual variability of vertical flux associated with differences in the intensity of the summer phytoplankton bloom. Particulate material trapped in summer was dominated by that which originated in diatoms. High recoveries of chlorophyll a, fucoxanthin, n-C21:6 hydrocarbon, 20:5(n-3) fatty acid and shorter chain (C15–C24) aliphatic hydrocarbons all pointed to a significant summer flux of ungrazed diatoms. There were, however, also signals of zooplankton grazing activity (notably pyrophaeophorbide a), and the presence of C18:4(n-3) and C22:6(n-3) fatty acids suggested a small flux of material from flagellates and other sources. Longer chain n-alkanes (C25–C34) indicative of nanoplankton were detected all year, but there was no significant deposition of zooplankton material in any sample. The major recovery rate of photosynthetic pigments was in late summer (February to April), and the major grazing signal occurred after the peak of the summer diatom bloom. Most of the diatom bloom appeared to settle out from the water column without being grazed. The major seasonal contrast in the biochemistry of the trapped material was the dominance of the diatom signature in summer, and in winter the predominance (but at much lower recovery rates) of material from nanoplankton.