ANACONDAS I, R/V Knorr, August 2010


Project Abstract

The investigators hypothesize that large tropical river plumes with low N: P ratios provide an ideal niche for diatom-diazotroph assemblages (DDAs). They suggest that the ability of these organisms to fix N2 within the surface ocean is responsible for significant C export in the Amazon River plume. Their previous observations in the Amazon River plume helped reveal that blooms comprised of the endosymbiotic N2-fixing cyanobacterium Richelia and its diatom hosts (e.g. Hemiaulus) were a significant source of new production and carbon export. The previous work focused largely on the sensitivity of DDAs to external forcing from dust and riverine inputs, so the ecology of these organisms and the fate of their new production were largely unstudied. It is now known that DDAs are responsible for a significant amount of CO2 drawdown in the Amazon River plume, and floating sediment traps at 200 m measured 4x higher mass fluxes beneath the plume than outside the plume. This led the researchers to hypothesize that this greater export is due either to aggregation and sinking of DDAs themselves or to grazing of DDAs by zooplankton.

In this study the researchers will undertake a suite of field, satellite and modeling studies aimed at understanding the ecology and tracing the fate of C and N fixed by DDAs and other phytoplankton living in the plume. By examining C and silicate (Si) export from offshore surface waters, through the upper oceanic food web, the mesopelagic, and down to the deep sea floor, they will quantify the impact of the Amazon River on biological processes that control C sequestration and the implications of these regional processes on C, N and Si budgets. The study will go beyond previous research because they will quantify 1) the distribution, nutrient demands, and activity of DDAs in the context of phytoplankton species succession, 2) the sensitivity of the CO2 drawdown to the mix of phytoplankton, 3) the grazing and aggregation processes contributing to the sinking flux, 4) the composition of this flux, and 5) the proportion of this material that reaches the seafloor. This effort truly represents a measure of C sequestration and pump efficiency. Ecological modeling will be used to place observational results from field studies and satellites into the context of the larger Atlantic basin with tropical climate variability on interannual and longer time scales.

Intellectual Merit:

The PIs have identified a potentially significant but poorly understood, ecosystem-controlled, climate-sensitive C sequestration pathway that seems to violate the expectation of an inefficient open-ocean biological pump. Since primary production fueled by allochthonous sources of N such as N2 fixation can drive a net, biologically mediated transfer of C from the atmosphere to the ocean, C sequestration by DDAs in the Amazon River plume is a regionally significant process. Because DDAs have been found in other tropical river systems, they may represent a globally significant, yet previously overlooked biological pump mechanism.

Broader Impacts:

The Amazon River has captured the public’s imagination more than any other river. This study aims to take advantage of such high profile earth science to promote science literacy among all our citizens. This project will support graduate and postdoctoral education, undergraduates through training cruises, and ocean science education of K-12 teachers and undergraduates through the COSEE-West, the Mid Atlantic COSEE and the COSEEOS programs. The results of this research will be made available to other scientists through peer reviewed publications, public databases, and an ANACONDAS website, as well as to the general public through the SFSU RTC-Bay Area Discovery Museum Program.

Read more at The Amazon Continuum project website



R/V Knorr (KN197-8)

22 May 2010 – 24 June 2010

Bridgetown, Barbados to Degrad de Cannes, French Guyana to Bridgetown, Barbados

Chief Scientist: Tish Yager


R/V Melville (MV1110)

03 September 2011 – 08 October 2011

Bridgetown, Barbados to Bridgetown, Barbados

Chief Scientist: Tish Yager

See Also:

Laila Barada et al. (2012) Distribution of Thiamin and Pyridoxine in the Western Tropical North Atlantic (WTNA) Amazon River Plume: ASLO 2012 ocean sciences meeting poster. (pdf)