Top predators in the Southern ocean: a major leak in the biological carbon pump

Science  05 Jul 1991:
Vol. 253, Issue 5015, pp. 64-66
DOI: 10.1126/science.1905841


Primary productivity in the Southern Ocean is approximately 3.5 gigatons of carbon per year, which accounts for nearly 15 percent of the global total. The presence of high concentrations of nitrate in Antarctic waters suggests that it might be possible to increase primary production significantly and thereby alleviate the net accumulation of atmospheric carbon dioxide. An analysis of the food web for these waters implies that the Southern Ocean may be remarkably inefficient as a carbon sink. This inefficiency is caused by the large flux of carbon respired to the atmosphere by air-breathing birds and mammals, dominant predators in the unusually simple food web of Antarctic waters. These top predators may transfer into the atmosphere as much as 20 to 25 percent of photosynthetically fixed carbon.