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We report the distribution of cobalt (Co) in the Ross Sea polynya during austral summer 2005-2006 and the following austral spring 2006. The vertical distribution of total dissolved Co (dCo) was similar to soluble reactive phosphate (PO(4)(3-)), with dCo and PO(4)(3-) showing a significant correlation throughout the water column (r(2) = 0.87, 164 samples). A strong seasonal signal for dCo was observed, with most spring samples having concentrations ranging from similar to ~ 45-85 pM, whereas summer dCo values were depleted below these levels by biological activity. Surface transect data from the summer cruise revealed concentrations at the low range of this seasonal variability (similar to ~ 30pM dCo), with concentrations as low as 20pM observed in some regions where PO(4)(3-) was depleted to similar to 0.1 mu M. Both complexed Co, defined as the fraction of dCo bound by strong organic ligands, and labile Co, defined as the fraction of dCo not bound by these ligands, were typically observed in significant concentrations throughout the water column. This contrasts the depletion of labile Co observed in the euphotic zone of other ocean regions, suggesting a much higher bioavailability for Co in the Ross Sea. An ecological stoichiometry of 37.6 mu mol Co: mol(-1) PO(4)(3-) calculated from dissolved concentrations was similar to values observed in the subarctic Pacific, but approximately tenfold lower than values in the Eastern Tropical Pacific and Equatorial Atlantic. The ecological stoichiometries for dissolved Co and Zn suggest a greater overall use of Zn relative to Co in the shallow waters of the Ross Sea, with a Co: PO(4)(3-) / Zn: PO(4)(3-) ratio of 1:17. Comparison of these observed stoichiometries with values estimated in culture studies suggests that Zn is a key micronutrient that likely influences phytoplankton diversity in the Ross Sea. In contrast, the observed ecological stoichiometries for Co were below values necessary for the growth of eukaryotic phytoplankton in laboratory culture experiments conducted in the absence of added zinc, implying the need for significant Zn nutrition in the Zn-Co cambialistic enzymes. The lack of an obvious kink in the dissolved Co: PO(4)(3-) relationship was in contrast to Zn: PO(4)(3-) and Cd: wPO(4)(3-) kinks previously observed in the Ross Sea. An excess uptake mechanism for kink formation is proposed as a major driver of Cd: PO(4)(3-) kinks, where Zn and Cd uptake in excess of that needed for optimal growth occurs at the base of the euphotic zone, and no clear Co kink occurs because its abundances are too low for excess uptake. An unusual characteristic of Co geochemistry in the Ross Sea is an apparent lack of Co scavenging processes, as inferred from the absence of dCo removal below the euphotic zone. We hypothesize that this vertical distribution reflects a low rate of Co scavenging by Mn oxidizing bacteria, perhaps due to Mn scarcity, relative to the timescale of the annual deep winter mixing in the Ross Sea. Thus Co exhibits nutrient-like behavior in the Ross Sea, in contrast to its hybrid-type behavior in other ocean regions, with implications for the possibility of increased marine Co inventories and utility as a paleooceanographic proxy.

Original Publication Citation

Saito, M.A., Goepfert, T.J., Noble, A.E., Bertrand, E.M., Sedwick, P.N., & DiTullio, G.R. (2010). A seasonal study of dissolved cobalt in the Ross Sea, Antarctica: Micronutrient behavior, absence of scavenging, and relationships with Zn, Cd, and P. Biogeosciences, 7(12), 4059-4082. doi: 10.5194/bg-7-4059-2010