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Impact of sea ice on the marine iron cycle and phytoplankton productivity


Iron is a key nutrient for phytoplankton growth in the surface ocean. At high latitudes, the iron cycle is closely related to the dynamics of sea ice. In recent decades, Arctic sea ice cover has been declining rapidly and Antarctic sea ice has exhibited large regional trends. A significant reduction of sea ice in both hemispheres is projected in future climate scenarios. In order to adequately study the effect of sea ice on the polar iron cycle, sea ice bearing iron was incorporated in the Community Earth System Model (CESM). Sea ice acts as a reservoir for iron during winter and releases the trace metal to the surface ocean in spring and summer. Simulated iron concentrations in sea ice generally agree with observations in regions where iron concentrations are relatively low. The maximum iron concentrations simulated in Arctic and Antarctic sea ice are much lower than observed, which is likely due to underestimation of iron inputs to sea ice or missing mechanisms. The largest iron source to sea ice is suspended sediments, contributing fluxes of iron of 2.2 × 108mol Fe month-1in the Arctic and 4.1 × 106mol Fe month-1in the Southern Ocean during summer. As a result of the iron flux from ice, iron concentrations increase significantly in the Arctic. Iron released from melting ice increases phytoplankton production in spring and summer and shifts phytoplankton community composition in the Southern Ocean. Results for the period of 1998 to 2007 indicate that a reduction of sea ice in the Southern Ocean will have a negative influence on phytoplankton production. Iron transport by sea ice appears to be an important process bringing iron to the central Arctic. The impact of ice to ocean iron fluxes on marine ecosystems is negligible in the current Arctic Ocean, as iron is not typically the growth-limiting nutrient. However, it may become a more important factor in the future, particularly in the central Arctic, as iron concentrations will decrease with declining sea ice cover and transport.

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