Interaction of the Antarctic Circumpolar Current With Seamounts Fuels Moderate Blooms but Vast Foraging Grounds for Multiple Marine Predators
In the Antarctic Circumpolar Current region of the Southern Ocean, the massive phytoplankton blooms stemming from islands support large trophic chains. Contrary to islands, open ocean seamounts appear to sustain blooms of lesser intensity and, consequently, are expected to play a negligible role in the productivity of this area. Here we revisit this assumption by focusing on a region of the Antarctic Circumpolar Current zone which is massively targeted by marine predators, even if no island fertilizes this area. By combining high resolution bathymetric data, Lagrangian analyses of altimetry-derived velocities and chlorophyll a observations derived from BGC-Argo floats and ocean color images, we reveal that the oligotrophic nature of the study region considered in low chlorophyll a climatological maps hides in reality a much more complex environment. Significant (chlorophyll a in excess of 0.6 mg/m3) phytoplankton blooms spread over thousands of kilometers and have bio-optical signatures similar to the ones stemming from island systems. By adopting a Lagrangian approach, we demonstrate that these moderate blooms (i) originate at specific sites where the Antarctic Circumpolar Current interacts with seamounts, and (ii) coincide with foraging areas of five megafauna species. These findings underline the ecological importance of the open ocean subantarctic waters and advocate for a connected vision of future conservation actions along the Antarctic Circumpolar Current.