Antarctic Science

The vertical flux of particulate matter in the polynya of Terra Nova Bay. Part II. Biological components

a1 Istituto di Meteorologia ed Oceanografia, Università Parthenope, Napoli, Italy
a2 Laboratorio di Ecologia del Benthos, Stazione Zoologica “A. Dohrn”, Napoli, Italy


Downward fluxes of particulate matter were investigated in the polynya of Terra Nova Bay (western Ross Sea) from February 1995 to December 1997. The main biological components were siliceous phytoplankton (diatoms, silicoflagellates and parmales), abundant faecal pellets of several types and zooplankton (mainly shelled pteropods). Vertical fluxes of particles occurred mainly through diatoms and faecal pellets in the first and second part of the summer, respectively. The highest fluxes were recurrently observed in late summer, when faeces contributed up to 100% of organic carbon. Unusually high fluxes were recorded in winter 1995, when faecal pellets accounted for 84.6% of the organic carbon. Peak fluxes were always driven by the sinking of faecal pellets, that hence appear to be the most efficient vector of export in the polynya of Terra Nova Bay. A major flux component was the pteropod Limacina helicina, which repeatedly sank in high amounts after the growing season. In April–June, L. helicina probably transported biogenic carbon to deep layers as a passive sinker. The inclusion of pteropods in flux estimates resulted in values that were up to 20 (for total mass), 25 (for organic matter) and 48 (for carbonate) times higher than the previously measured fluxes. Fluxes are known to be biased by swimmers, but ultimately attention must be paid to a possible erroneous categorization of some zooplankton as swimmers to avoid severe underestimation of fluxes of total mass (up to 95% in our study), organic matter (up to 96%) and carbonate (up to 100%).

(Received June 4 2002)
(Accepted January 7 2003)

Key Words: Antarctica; downward fluxes; faecal pellets; Limacina helicina; pteropods; Ross Sea.