Control of silica production by iron and silicic acid during the Southern Ocean Iron Experiment (SOFeX)

Brzezinski, Mark A., Janice L. Jones, Mark S. Demarest

Limnol. Oceanogr., 50(3), 2005, 810-824 | DOI: 10.4319/lo.2005.50.3.0810

ABSTRACT: We examined the role of Si limitation in mediating the response of siliceous biomass and silica production to mesoscale Fe fertilization in the high-silicic acid high-nitrate waters of the Antarctic and in the low-silicic acid high-nitrate waters of the Subantarctic during austral summer. Iron fertilization stimulated biogenic silica production and silicic acid depletion in both regions. Si limitation significantly curtailed the response of silica production to Fe in the Subantarctic, but not in the Antarctic. Additions of silicic acid to Fe-enriched waters of the Subantarctic more than doubled specific silica production rates beyond the increase caused by Fe alone. This result, combined with the presence of Si limitation both inside and outside of the fertilized patch in the Subantarctic, indicates that silica production in the Subantarctic is regulated by both Fe and Si during austral summer. Fe increased the ability of Subantarctic diatom assemblages to take up low concentrations of Si over an order of magnitude by increasing maximum uptake rates and lowering half-saturation constants for silicic acid uptake. Our observations indicate that the dramatic gradient in Si availability across the Antarctic Circumpolar Current exerts a strong control on the contribution of diatoms to new production following Fe enrichment in the Southern Ocean during austral summer. With sufficient Fe to allow nitrate depletion, the abundant silicic acid in the Antarctic would allow diatoms to dominate nitrate use; however, low silicic acid concentrations in the Subantarctic would restrict the fraction of available nitrate that would be consumed by diatoms to ca. 5%.

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