Articles | Volume 11, issue 2
Research article
17 Mar 2017
Research article |  | 17 Mar 2017

Impact of icebergs on net primary productivity in the Southern Ocean

Shuang-Ye Wu and Shugui Hou

Abstract. Productivity in the Southern Ocean (SO) is iron-limited, and supply of iron dissolved from aeolian dust is believed to be the main source from outside the marine environment. However, recent studies show that icebergs could provide a comparable amount of bioavailable iron to the SO as aeolian dust. In addition, small-scale areal studies suggest increased concentrations of chlorophyll, krill, and seabirds surrounding icebergs. Based on previous research, this study aims to examine whether iceberg occurrence has a significant impact on marine productivity at the scale of the SO, using remote sensing data of iceberg occurrences and ocean net primary productivity (NPP) covering the period 2002–2014. The impacts of both large and small icebergs are examined in four major ecological zones of the SO: the continental shelf zone (CSZ), the seasonal ice zone (SIZ), the permanent open ocean zone (POOZ), and the polar front zone (PFZ). We found that the presence of icebergs is associated with elevated levels of NPP, but the differences vary in different zones. Grid cells with small icebergs on average have higher NPP than other cells in most iron-deficient zones: 21 % higher for the SIZ, 16 % for the POOZ, and 12 % for the PFZ. The difference is relatively small in the CSZ where iron is supplied from meltwater and sediment input from the continent. In addition, NPP of grid cells adjacent to large icebergs on average is 10 % higher than that of control cells in the vicinity. The difference is larger at higher latitudes, where most large icebergs are concentrated. From 1992 to 2014, there is a significant increasing trend for both small and large icebergs. The increase was most rapid in the early 2000s and has leveled off since then. As the climate continues to warm, the Antarctic Ice Sheet is expected to experience increased mass loss as a whole, which could lead to more icebergs in the region. Based on our study, this could result in a higher level of NPP in the SO as a whole, providing a possible negative feedback for global warming in near future.

Short summary
The primary productivity in the Southern Ocean (SO) is limited by the amount of iron available for biological activities. Recent studies show that icebergs could be a main source of iron to the SO. Based on remote sensing data, our study shows that iceberg presence is associated with elevated levels of ocean productivity, particularly in iron-deficient regions. This impact could serve as a negative feedback to the climate system.