Substantial primary production in the land-remote region of the central and northern Scotia Sea
The Scotia Sea area has high productivity relative to the Southern Ocean as a whole, but this displays strong latitudinal and longitudinal gradients. Elucidating the extent of these from a single cruise is problematic, given the high variability of bloom timing and location in this region. Therefore, this study used data from transects across the central Scotia Sea in spring, summer and autumn of 2006, 2008 and 2009, combined with satellite data, to obtain a larger-scale appreciation of the latitudinal contrasts in phytoplankton standing stock and primary production across the region. Concentrations of nitrate, phosphate and particularly silicic acid increased towards the south of the transect with the latter showing a step change at the Southern Antarctic Circumpolar Current Front (SACCF). Changes in seasonal nutrient concentrations indicated increasing phytoplankton uptake north of ∼57°S that peaked at ∼53°S in the Georgia Basin. Based on seasonal depletions of nitrate relative to phosphate, the highest relative nitrate uptake occurred northwest of South Georgia on the periphery of the Georgia Basin, indicating efficient nitrate use here due to iron-replete conditions. An integrative approach to examine these gradients was with the use of 10-year satellite climatology data. These showed that the lowest mean chlorophyll a (chl-a) values were in the central/northern Scotia Sea, but these were still substantial values, 67% of values within the Georgia Basin bloom. Cruise data on chl-a and on microplankton biomass from cell counts support this finding of substantial biomass in the central Scotia Sea; since these averaged half of values in the iron-fertilised bloom of the Georgia Basin downstream of South Georgia. Given that our transect was nearly 1000 km long and in parts was land remote with low iron concentrations, the relatively high production in the central and northern Scotia Sea is surprising. Iron levels may be maintained here by efficient recycling and irregular injections, possibly for example from dust deposition or shelf-derived inputs from the south. The moderate chl-a concentration across the mid-Scotia Sea and southwest of South Georgia reflect periodic, non-ice-associated blooms that occur in some years and not others. These may provide a connection between the large populations of krill inhabiting the northern and southern fringes of the Scotia Sea.