Photosynthetic energy conversion efficiency in the West Antarctic Peninsula

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The West Antarctic Peninsula (WAP) is a highly productive polar ecosystem where phytoplankton dynamics are regulated by intense bottom-up control from light and iron availability. Rapid climate change along the WAP is driving shifts in the mixed layer depth and iron availability. Elucidating the relative role of each of these controls and their interactions is crucial for understanding of how primary productivity will change in coming decades. Using a combination of ultra-high-resolution variable chlorophyll fluorescence together with fluorescence lifetime analyses on the 2017 Palmer Long Term Ecological Research cruise, we mapped the temporal and spatial variability in phytoplankton photophysiology across the WAP. Highest photosynthetic energy conversion efficiencies and lowest fluorescence quantum yields were observed in iron replete coastal regions. Photosynthetic energy conversion efficiencies decreased by ~ 60% with a proportional increase in quantum yields of thermal dissipation and fluorescence on the outer continental shelf and slope. The combined analysis of variable fluorescence and lifetimes revealed that, in addition to the decrease in the fraction of inactive reaction centers, up to 20% of light harvesting chlorophyll-protein antenna complexes were energetically uncoupled from photosystem II reaction centers in iron-limited phytoplankton. These biophysical signatures strongly suggest severe iron limitation of photosynthesis in the surface waters along the continental slope of the WAP.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2912-2925
Number of pages14
JournalLimnology and Oceanography
Issue number12
StatePublished - Dec 2020

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Oceanography
  • Aquatic Science


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