Evidence for the Impact of Climate Change on Primary Producers in the Southern Ocean

Matthew H. Pinkerton, Philip W. Boyd, Stacy Deppeler, Alex Hayward, Juan Höfer, Sebastien Moreau

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40 Scopus citations


Within the framework of the Marine Ecosystem Assessment for the Southern Ocean (MEASO), this paper brings together analyses of recent trends in phytoplankton biomass, primary production and irradiance at the base of the mixed layer in the Southern Ocean and summarises future projections. Satellite observations suggest that phytoplankton biomass in the mixed-layer has increased over the last 20 years in most (but not all) parts of the Southern Ocean, whereas primary production at the base of the mixed-layer has likely decreased over the same period. Different satellite models of primary production (Vertically Generalised versus Carbon Based Production Models) give different patterns and directions of recent change in net primary production (NPP). At present, the satellite record is not long enough to distinguish between trends and climate-related cycles in primary production. Over the next 100 years, Earth system models project increasing NPP in the water column in the MEASO northern and Antarctic zones but decreases in the Subantarctic zone. Low confidence in these projections arises from: (1) the difficulty in mapping supply mechanisms for key nutrients (silicate, iron); and (2) understanding the effects of multiple stressors (including irradiance, nutrients, temperature, pCO2, pH, grazing) on different species of Antarctic phytoplankton. Notwithstanding these uncertainties, there are likely to be changes to the seasonal patterns of production and the microbial community present over the next 50–100 years and these changes will have ecological consequences across Southern Ocean food-webs, especially on key species such as Antarctic krill and silverfish.

Original languageEnglish
Article number592027
JournalFrontiers in Ecology and Evolution
StatePublished - 17 May 2021


  • Antarctica
  • SeaWiFS
  • biogeochemistry
  • climate
  • deep chlorophyll maximum
  • ocean colour
  • phytoplankton


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