Southern Ocean Productivity

Phytoplankton – microscopic plants that drift in the sunlit waters of the world's oceans – are the engine that drives all of Antarctica's marine food webs.

They're what make the oceans productive, using sunlight to convert CO2 in the atmosphere to particles made up of organic carbon that's then consumed by marine animals. NIWA physical oceanographer Dr Philip Boyd explains what promotes or limits this productivity, how phytoplankton feed everything from whales to seafloor dwellers, and also supply us with carbon-based fuels. He explains how Antarctica's phytoplankton species are adapted to a unique environment with a short growing season in which they thrive for three months of the year.