Transmission of ultraviolet radiation through the Antarctic annual sea ice and its biological effects on sea urchin embryos

Lesser, Michael P., Miles D. Lamare, Michael F. Barker

Limnol. Oceanogr., 49(6), 2004, 1957-1963 | DOI: 10.4319/lo.2004.49.6.1957

ABSTRACT: Stratospheric ozone depletion over Antarctica is expected to continue for the next 50 years, with increases in ecologically damaging ultraviolet radiation (UVR: 290-400 nm), specifically the ultraviolet-B (UVB: 290-320 nm) portion of the spectrum. Most of coastal Antarctica is covered with 2-3 m of annual sea ice during the occurrence of the ‘‘ozone hole.’’ This physical barrier to UVR transmission has long been assumed to provide complete protection from the biologically damaging effects of UVR, especially for the planktonic developmental stages of the benthic invertebrate fauna. We found that short-wavelength UVB (down to 304 nm) is transmitted through the Austral spring annual ice of McMurdo Sound, and causes significant mortality and DNA damage in the embryos of the sea urchin Sterechinus neumayeri. Although mortality of sea urchin embryos has been reported for the open waters of the Antarctic, this is the first documentation of mortality and DNA damage for embryos under the annual sea ice. The degree of mortality and DNA damage was dependent on both year and depth, with higher mortality and DNA damage at 1 m depth below the ice compared to 3 m and 5 m. Greater DNA damage occurred in 2003 compared to 2002 despite the thicker annual ice (3.1 m vs. 2.5 m). Although the thickness of the annual ice was greater, the severity of the ozone hole, 230 Dobson units (DU) versus 320 DU, and the ratio of UVB to visible radiation was greater in 2003. Embryo and larval mortality from exposure to UVR under the annual ice should be considered as another abiotic factor potentially affecting the temporally episodic recruitment of invertebrates that occur in this benthic ecosystem.

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