Variability in phytoplankton community structure in response to the North Atlantic Oscillation and implications for organic carbon flux

Stephanie Henson, Richard Lampitt and David Johns

Limnol. Oceanogr., 57(6), 2012, 1591-1601 | DOI: 10.4319/lo.2012.57.6.1591

ABSTRACT: The North Atlantic Oscillation (NAO) is a major mode of variability in the North Atlantic, dominating atmospheric and oceanic conditions. Here, we examine the phytoplankton community-structure response to the NAO using the Continuous Plankton Recorder data set. In the Northeast Atlantic, in the transition region between the gyres, variability in the relative influence of subpolar or subtropical-like conditions is reflected in the physical environment. During positive NAO periods, the region experiences subpolar-like conditions, with strong wind stress and deep mixed layers. In contrast, during negative NAO periods, the region shifts toward more subtropical-like conditions. Diatoms dominate the phytoplankton community in positive NAO periods, whereas in negative NAO periods, dinoflagellates outcompete diatoms. The implications for interannual variability in deep ocean carbon flux are examined using data from the Porcupine Abyssal Plain time-series station. Contrary to expectations, carbon flux to 3000 m is enhanced when diatoms are outcompeted by other phytoplankton functional types. Additionally, highest carbon fluxes were not associated with an increase in biomineral content, which implies that ballasting is not playing a dominant role in controlling the flux of material to the deep ocean in this region. In transition zones between gyre systems, phytoplankton populations can change in response to forcing induced by opposing NAO phases.

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