Articles | Volume 17, issue 1
Research article
10 Feb 2021
Research article |  | 10 Feb 2021

High-resolution distributions of O2 / Ar on the northern slope of the South China Sea and estimates of net community production

Chuan Qin, Guiling Zhang, Wenjing Zheng, Yu Han, and Sumei Liu

Abstract. The dissolved oxygen-to-argon ratio (O2∕Ar) in the oceanic mixed layer has been widely used to estimate net community production (NCP), which is the difference between gross primary production and community respiration; it is a measure of the strength of the biological pump. In order to obtain the high-resolution distribution of NCP and improve our understanding of its regulating factors in the slope region of the northern South China Sea (SCS), we conducted continuous measurements of dissolved O2, Ar, and CO2 with membrane inlet mass spectrometry (MIMS) during two cruises in October 2014 and June 2015. An overall autotrophic condition was observed in the study region in both cruises with an average Δ(O2∕Ar) of 1.1 % ± 0.9 % in October 2014 and 2.7 % ± 2.8 % in June 2015. NCP was on average 11.5 ± 8.7 mmol C m−2 d−1 in October 2014 and 11.6 ± 12.7 mmol C m−2 d−1 in June 2015. Correlations between dissolved inorganic nitrogen (DIN), Δ(O2∕Ar), and NCP were observed in both cruises, indicating that NCP is subject to the nitrogen limitation in the study region. In June 2015, we observed a rapid response of the ecosystem to the episodic nutrient supply induced by eddies. Eddy-entrained shelf water intrusion, which supplied large amounts of terrigenous nitrogen to the study region, promoted NCP in the study region by potentially more than threefold. In addition, upwelling brought large uncertainties to the estimation of NCP in the core region of the cold eddy (cyclone) in June 2015. The deep euphotic depth in the SCS and the absence of correlation between NCP and the average photosynthetically available radiation (PAR) in the mixed layer in the autumn indicate that light availability may not be a significant limitation on NCP in the SCS. This study helps us to understand the carbon cycle in the highly dynamic shelf system.

Short summary
We conducted an underway measurement of dissolved O2 / Ar using membrane inlet mass spectrometry and estimated net community production (NCP) in the South China Sea (SCS) in both summer and autumn. We found that nutrient content, especially nitrogen, is the dominant factor affecting primary production in the SCS. In the summer, we observed a rapid response of the ecosystem to episodic nutrient supply induced by eddies. This is the first report on NCP estimation based on O2 / Ar data in the SCS.