Variability in summer surface residence time within a West Antarctic Peninsula biological hotspot

Josh T. Kohut, Peter Winsor, Hank Statscewich, Matthew J. Oliver, Erick Fredj, Nicole Couto, Kim Bernard, William Fraser

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

12 Scopus citations


Palmer Deep canyon along the central West Antarctic Peninsula is known to have higher phytoplankton biomass than the surrounding noncanyon regions, but the circulation mechanisms that transport and locally concentrate phytoplankton and Antarctic krill, potentially increasing prey availability to upper-trophic-level predators such as penguins and cetaceans, are currently unknown. We deployed a three-site high-frequency radar network that provided hourly surface circulation maps over the Palmer Deep hotspot. A series of particle release experiments were used to estimate surface residence time and connectivity across the canyon. The majority of residence times fell between 1.0 and 3.5 days, with a mean of 2 days and a maximum of 5 days. We found a highly significant negative relationship between wind speed and residence time. Our residence time analysis indicates that the elevated phytoplankton biomass over the central canyon is transported into and out of the hotspot on time scales much shorter than the observed phytoplankton growth rate, suggesting that the canyon may not act as an incubator of phytoplankton productivity as previously suggested. It may instead serve more as a conveyor belt of phytoplankton biomass produced elsewhere, continually replenishing the phytoplankton biomass for the local Antarctic krill community, which in turn supports numerous top predators. This article is part of the theme issue 'The marine system of the West Antarctic Peninsula: status and strategy for progress in a region of rapid change'.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number20170165
JournalPhilosophical Transactions of the Royal Society A: Mathematical, Physical and Engineering Sciences
Issue number2122
StatePublished - Jun 28 2018

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Engineering(all)
  • Physics and Astronomy(all)
  • Mathematics(all)


  • Biological hotspot function
  • Circulation
  • High-frequency radar
  • Lagrangian particle trajectories
  • Residence time
  • West Antarctic Peninsula


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