Antarctic shelf systems generate the densest waters in the world. These shelf waters are the building blocks of Antarctic Bottom Water, the ocean’s abyssal water mass. These bottom waters have the potential to sequester carbon out of the atmosphere for millennia. One such form of marine carbon is dissolved organic carbon (DOC). DOC is produced in the surface ocean via primary production and is the global ocean’s largest standing stock of reduced carbon.
In a recent study, Bercovici et al (2017) used hydrographic and biogeochemical measurements to assess the mechanism that brings DOC into the shelf waters of the Ross Sea, the shelf system in the Pacific sector of Antarctica. These mechanisms include sinking particles, brine rejection caused by katabatic winds in the Terra Nova Bay polynya, and vertical mixing. This study revealed that DOC is primarily introduced into the deeper shelf waters via convective overturning and deep vertical mixing upon the onset of austral winter. Substantial DOC enrichment of shelf waters suggests that this carbon is exported off the shelf into Antarctic Bottom Water. However, this study finds much of the excess Ross Sea shelf DOC is actually consumed and remineralized to CO2 by deep microbial communities at the slope of the Ross Sea shelf, ultimately sequestering this carbon into the ocean’s interior.
Sarah K. Bercovici (Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science, University of Miami)
Bruce A. Huber (Lamont Doherty Earth Observatory, Columbia University)
Hans B. Dejong (Stanford University)
Robert B. Dunbar (Stanford University)
Dennis A. Hansell (Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science, University of Miami)