Phytoplankton as a climate regulator





Photosynthesis at the ocean surface by phytoplankton contributes to half of primary production on Earth. In the process, it draws carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and converts it to organic carbon, which then settles to the deep ocean and ocean floor, where it is isolated from the atmosphere for thousands to millions of years. This process in great part controls the distribution of carbon between the atmosphere and the deep ocean and influences climate over geological timescales. Phytoplankton therefore provides invaluable services including regulating climate and supporting Antarctic ecosystems from krill to whales. In light of these critical roles, it is alarming to note that we have a very limited understanding of Antarctic plankton communities and their impact on carbon cycling.

To address this issue, we will deploy a shipboard mass spectrometer for underway estimates of net community production. Our observations will be compared to plankton community characteristics as estimated by imaging flow cytometry through a collaboration with other ACE projects. Microbial diversity patterns will be complemented by next-generation environmental DNA sequencing methods. Our observations will allow us to explore at unmatched spatial scales and precision how plankton communities regulate oceanic fluxes of energy and mass, thereby providing a more mechanistic understanding of Antarctic carbon cycling.

Principal Investigator (PI)

Nicolas Cassar

Duke University and LabexMER-IUEM, (USA & France)


Antarctic Circumpolar Study of the relation of Carbon Export Production to Plankton Community Characteristics

Principal institution / country

  • Duke University-LabexMER IUEM (USA / France)