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Adv Mar Biol. 2002;43:171-276.

Ecology of southern ocean pack ice.

Author information

  • 1Gatty Marine Laboratory, School of Biology, University of St Andrews, Fife, KY16 8LB, UK. andrew.brierley@st-andrews.ac.uk

Abstract

Around Antarctica the annual five-fold growth and decay of sea ice is the most prominent physical process and has a profound impact on marine life there. In winter the pack ice canopy extends to cover almost 20 million square kilometres--some 8% of the southern hemisphere and an area larger than the Antarctic continent itself (13.2 million square kilometres)--and is one of the largest, most dynamic ecosystems on earth. Biological activity is associated with all physical components of the sea-ice system: the sea-ice surface; the internal sea-ice matrix and brine channel system; the underside of sea ice and the waters in the vicinity of sea ice that are modified by the presence of sea ice. Microbial and microalgal communities proliferate on and within sea ice and are grazed by a wide range of proto- and macrozooplankton that inhabit the sea ice in large concentrations. Grazing organisms also exploit biogenic material released from the sea ice at ice break-up or melt. Although rates of primary production in the underlying water column are often low because of shading by sea-ice cover, sea ice itself forms a substratum that provides standing stocks of bacteria, algae and grazers significantly higher than those in ice-free areas. Decay of sea ice in summer releases particulate and dissolved organic matter to the water column, playing a major role in biogeochemical cycling as well as seeding water column phytoplankton blooms. Numerous zooplankton species graze sea-ice algae, benefiting additionally because the overlying sea-ice ceiling provides a refuge from surface predators. Sea ice is an important nursery habitat for Antarctic krill, the pivotal species in the Southern Ocean marine ecosystem. Some deep-water fish migrate to shallow depths beneath sea ice to exploit the elevated concentrations of some zooplankton there. The increased secondary production associated with pack ice and the sea-ice edge is exploited by many higher predators, with seals, seabirds and whales aggregating there. As a result, much of the Southern Ocean pelagic whaling was concentrated at the edge of the marginal ice zone. The extent and duration of sea ice fluctuate periodically under the influence of global climatic phenomena including the El NiƱo Southern Oscillation. Life cycles of some associated species may reflect this periodicity. With evidence for climatic warming in some regions of Antarctica, there is concern that ecosystem change may be induced by changes in sea-ice extent. The relative abundance of krill and salps appears to change interannually with sea-ice extent, and in warm years, when salps proliferate, krill are scarce and dependent predators suffer severely. Further research on the Southern Ocean sea-ice system is required, not only to further our basic understanding of the ecology, but also to provide ecosystem managers with the information necessary for the development of strategies in response to short- and medium-term environmental changes in Antarctica. Technological advances are delivering new sampling platforms such as autonomous underwater vehicles that are improving vastly our ability to sample the Antarctic under sea-ice environment. Data from such platforms will enhance greatly our understanding of the globally important Southern Ocean sea-ice ecosystem.

PMID:
12154613
[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
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