MEPS 277:1-12 (2004)  -  doi:10.3354/meps277001

Surface ice and gap layers in Antarctic sea ice: highly productive habitats

Gerhard Kattner1,*, David N. Thomas2, Christian Haas1, Hilary Kennedy2, Gerhard S. Dieckmann1

1Alfred Wegener Institute for Polar and Marine Research, Postfach 120161, 27515 Bremerhaven, Germany
2School of Ocean Sciences, University of Wales-Bangor, Menai Bridge, Anglesey LL59 5AB, Wales, UK

ABSTRACT: Biogeochemical investigations of the upper layers of sea ice were made on layered summer ice floes collected from the Weddell Sea, Antarctica, from mid-February to March 1997. The surface layers had a clearly defined bottom layer immediately overlying a gap filled with seawater. Generally the gap covered rotten sea ice below. Using differences in algal biomass, mostly in the bottom layer of the surface ice overlying the gap, the floes were classified as low, moderate or high biomass. In addition, a floe with a re-frozen gap layer was studied. In the floes with the highest biomass, particulate organic carbon (POC) and nitrogen (PON) reached concentrations of up to 6000 µMC and 600 µMN in the bottom layer. In the upper part of the surface ice layer and the gap water, particulate and dissolved organic matter concentrations (POM, DOM) were clearly lower. High concentrations of POM were generally accompanied by high values of DOM although POM values generally exceeded DOM. All C and N contents of organic matter were significantly correlated. In gap waters, POM was low but still clearly higher than in the surrounding seawater, whereas DOM was in the range of seawater concentrations. Most POC/PON and C/chlorophyll a ratios pointed to an actively growing algae community, whereas the higher and more variable DOC/DON ratios reflected the various sources influencing DOM composition. Nitrate and silicate closely followed the signature of salinity, reaching in some gap water samples values similar to seawater concentrations. In some samples, in particular from the upper part of the surface ice layer, nitrate was totally exhausted. The distribution of the regenerated nutrients ammonium and phosphate was totally different from that of nitrate and silicate, reaching values of up to 15.9 and 9.08 µM, respectively. The bottom ice layer of the floe with the re-frozen gap layer had a high biomass similar to that of the high-biomass ice floe. DOC concentrations were lower, and DON maximum was not clearly linked with DOC maximum, but instead was associated with high ammonium and phosphate concentrations. The significant correlations between POM and DOM as well as between nitrate and silicate and between the regenerated nutrients ammonium and phosphate indicate that the gap-layer floes are semi-enclosed, highly productive habitats that still maintain high biomass during freezing. They are ubiquitous in the Antarctic pack-ice zone and important features that support high algae standing stocks.

KEY WORDS: Antarctic sea ice · Gap layers · Biogeochemistry · Particulate organic matter · Dissolved organic matter · Chlorophyll a · Nutrients

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