The annual silica cycle of the North Pacific subtropical gyre

Mark A. Brzezinski, Jeffrey W. Krause, Matthew J. Church, David M. Karl, Binglin Li, Janice L. Jones, Brett Updyke

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Silica cycling in the upper 175m of the North Pacific Subtropical Gyre was examined over a two year period (January 2008-December 2009) at the Hawaii Ocean Time-series (HOT) station ALOHA. Silicic acid concentrations in surface waters ranged from 0.6 to 1.6μM, exhibiting no clear seasonal trends. Biogenic silica concentrations and silica production rates increased by an order of magnitude each summer following stratification of the upper 50m reaching values of 157nmolSiL-1 and 81nmolSiL-1d-1, in 2008 and 2009, respectively. Sea surface height anomalies together with analyses of variability in isothermal surfaces at 150-175m indicated that the summer periods of elevated biogenic silica were associated with anticyclonic mesoscale features during both years. Lithogenic silica concentrations increased in the spring during the known period of maximum atmospheric dust concentrations with maximum values of 36nmolSiL-1 in the upper 10m. Dust deposition would enhance levels of dissolved iron in surface waters, but there was no response of diatom biomass or silica production to increases in near-surface ocean lithogenic silica concentrations suggesting iron sufficiency of diatom silica production rates.Low ambient silicic acid concentrations restricted silica production rates to an average of 43% of maximum potential rates. Si sufficiency only occurred during the summer period when diatom biomass was elevated suggesting that bloom diatoms are adapted to exploit low silicic acid concentrations. Annual silica production at HOT is estimated to be 63mmolSim-2a-1 with summer blooms contributing 29% of the annual total. Diatoms are estimated to account for 3-7% of total phytoplankton primary productivity, but 9-20% of organic carbon export confirming past suggestions that diatoms are relatively minor contributors to primary productivity and autotrophic biomass, but important contributors to new and export production in oligotrophic open-ocean ecosystems.Annual silica production at HOT is nearly 4-fold lower than estimates at the Bermuda Atlantic Time-series Study (BATS) site in the Sargasso Sea from the 1990s, but annual silica export at the base of the euphotic zone is similar between the two gyres indicating very different balances between silica production and its loss in surface waters. On a relative basis, BATS is a more productive system with respect to silica, where biogenic silica is recycled with high efficiency in surface waters; in contrast the NPSG is a lower productivity system with respect to silica, but where lower recycling efficiency leads to a much higher fraction of new silica production. The two gyres show contrasting long-term trends in diatom biomass as biogenic silica concentrations at HOT have been increasing since 1997, but they have been decreasing at BATS suggesting very different forcing of decadal trends in the contribution of diatoms in carbon cycling between these gyres. Combining the data from both gyres indicates that globally subtropical gyres produce 13TmolSia-1, which is only 51% of previous estimates reducing the contribution of subtropical gyres to 5-7% of global annual marine silica production.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)988-1001
Number of pages14
JournalDeep-Sea Research Part I: Oceanographic Research Papers
Issue number10
StatePublished - Oct 2011


  • Diatoms
  • Export
  • North Pacific subtropical gyre
  • Si limitation
  • Silica production


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