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On the Climatic Benefits of Antarctic Polynyas

Tortell, P.D., Long, M.C., Payne, C.D., Alderkamp, A.-C., Dutrieux, P. and Arrigo, K.R. 2012. Spatial distribution of pCO2, ΔO2/Ar and dimethylsulfide (DMS) in polynya waters and the sea ice zone of the Amundsen Sea, Antarctica. Deep-Sea Research II 71-76: 77-93.
In an analysis of several aspects of coastal polynyas that yearly receive iron (Fe) inputs from melting sea ice and continental shelf sediments - as described by Sedwick and DiTullio (1997) and Coale et al. (2005) - Tortell et al. (2012) note that primary productivity in these systems can account for about 40% of total Southern Ocean C-fixation, citing Arrigo et al. (1998) and Arrigo and van Dijken (2003). They further write that "high primary productivity in polynya surface waters lowers the partial pressure of CO2 below atmospheric saturation (Sweeney et al., 2000; Arrigo et al., 2008), driving an influx of CO2 and the subsequent export of particulate and dissolved organic C into subsurface waters (Dunbar et al., 1998)," such that "the global impact of this biological C pump is enhanced by the formation of deep water masses over the Antarctic continental shelf (Jacobs, 2004), which carry carbon into the ocean interior and sequester CO2 from the atmosphere on 100-1000 year timescales (Marinov et al., 2006)," with the consequence that this sea ice formation "impedes sea-air exchange with pCO2 supersaturated polynya waters during winter (Gibson and Trull, 1999; Sweeney, 2003; Arrigo and Van Dijken, 2007), ensuring that these regions are a net sink for CO2 on annual timescales (Arrigo et al., 2008)."

In further exploring this region of the planet and its unique characteristics, while on a cruise from 11 January to 16 February 2009 as part of the DynaLiFe program, the six scientists acquired new field data pertaining to the surface water distribution of DMS (dimethylsulfide) and pCO2 within the polynya and beneath the pack ice of the Amundsen Sea, using ship-board membrane inlet mass spectrometry for high spatial resolution analysis. In doing so, Tortell et al. report that during the time of their cruise, the Amundsen Sea acted as an overall net sink for CO2 and a source for DMS. In fact, they found that the air-to-sea flux of CO2 and sea-to-air flux of DMS were both "more than 2-fold higher in open polynya waters relative to the overall cruise means."

In harmony with the findings of Alderkamp et al. (2012), Tortell et al. conclude that the "exceptionally high productivity in the Amundsen Sea polynyas [was] likely due to the high glacially-derived Fe concentrations of this water mass." And this exceptionally high productivity ensures an exceptionally high organic matter sinking flux, which would be expected to have a cooling effect on the planet, due to the CO2 it extracted from the atmosphere and incorporated into its tissues sinking with it. In addition, the much higher sea-to-air flux of DMS would be expected to also have a cooling effect on the planet, as described by the CLAW hypothesis of Charlson et al. (1987), as discussed under the topic. And for more on that phenomenon, we direct you to Dimethyl Sulphide in our Topical Archive.

Additional References
Alderkamp, A.-C., Mills, M.M., van Dijken, G.L., Laan, P., Thuroczy, C.-E., Gerringa, L.J.A., de Baar, H.J.W., Payne, C.D., Visser, R.J.W., Buma, A.G.J. and Arrigo, K.R. 2012. Iron from melting glaciers fuels phytoplankton blooms in the Amundsen Sea (Southern Ocean): Phytoplankton characteristics and productivity. Deep-Sea Research II 71-76: 32-48.

Arrigo, K.R., van Dijken, G. and Long, M. 2008. Coastal Southern Ocean: a strong anthropogenic CO2 sink. Geophysical Research Letters 35: 10.1029/2008GL035624.

Arrigo, K.R. and van Dijken, G.L. 2003. Phytoplankton dynamics within 37 Antarctic coastal polynya systems. Journal of Geophysical Research-Oceans 108: 10.1029/2002JC001739.

Arrigo, K.R. and van Dijken, G.L. 2007. Interannual variation in air-sea CO2 flux in the Ross Sea, Antarctica: a model analysis. Journal of Geophysical Research-Oceans 112: 10.1029/2006JC003492.

Arrigo, K.R., Worthen, D., Schnell, A. and Lizotte, M.P. 1998. Primary production in Southern Ocean waters. Journal of Geophysical Research-Oceans 103: 15,587-15,600.

Charlson, R.J., Lovelock, J.E., Andrea, M.O. and Warren, S.G. 1987. Oceanic phytoplankton, atmospheric sulfur, cloud albedo and climate. Nature 326: 655-661.

Coale, K.H., Gordon, R.M. and Wang, X.J. 2005. The distribution and behavior of dissolved and particulate iron and zinc in the Ross Sea and Antarctic circumpolar current along 170 degrees W. Deep-Sea Research I 52: 295-318.

Dunbar, R.B., Leventer, A.R. and Mucciarone, D.A. 1998. Water column sediment fluxes in the Ross Sea, Antarctica: atmospheric and sea ice forcing. Journal of Geophysical Research-Oceans 103: 30,741-30,759.

Gibson, J.A.E. and Trull, T.W. 1999. Annual cycle of CO2 under sea-ice and in open water in Prydz Bay, East Antarctica. Marine Chemistry 66: 187-200.

Jacobs, S.S. 2004. Bottom water production and its links with the thermohaline circulation. Antarctic Science 16: 427-437.

Marinov, I., Gnanadesikan, A., Toggweiler, J.R. and Sarmiento, J.L. 2006. The Southern Ocean biogeochemical divide. Nature 441: 964-967.

Sedwick, P.N. and DiTullio, G.R. 1997. Regulation of algal blooms in Antarctic shelf waters by the release of iron from melting sea ice. Geophysical Research Letters 24: 2515-2518.

Sweeney, C. 2003. The annual cycle of surface CO2 and O2 in the Ross Sea: a model for gas exchange on the continental shelves of Antarctica. In: DiTullio, G.R. and Dunbar, R.B. (Eds.) Biogeochemistry of the Ross Sea, Antarctic Research Series 78: 295-312.

Sweeney, C., Hansell, D.A., Carlson, C.A., Codispoti, L.A., Gordon, L.I., Marra, J., Millero, F.J., Smith, W.O. and Takahashi, T. 2000. Biogeochemical regimes, net community production and carbon export in the Ross Sea, Antarctica. Deep-Sea Research II 47: 3369-3394.

Archived 23 January 2013