Photosynthetic oxygen production in a warmer ocean: the Sargasso Sea as a case study

Photosynthetic O2 production can be an important source of oxygen in sub-surface ocean waters especially in permanently stratified oligotrophic regions of the ocean where O2 produced in deep chlorophyll maxima (DCM) is not likely to be outgassed. Today, permanently stratified regions extend across approximately 40% of the global ocean and their extent is expected to increase in a warmer ocean. Thus, predicting future ocean oxygen conditions requires a better understanding of the potential response of photosynthetic oxygen production to a warmer ocean. Based on our own and published observations of water column processes in oligotrophic regions, we develop a one-dimensional water column model describing photosynthetic oxygen production in the Sargasso Sea to quantify the importance of photosynthesis for the downward flux of O2 and examine how it may be influenced in a warmer ocean. Photosynthesis is driven in the model by vertical mixing of nutrients (including eddy-induced mixing) and diazotrophy and is found to substantially increase the downward O2 flux relative to physical–chemical processes alone. Warming (2°C) surface waters does not significantly change oxygen production at the DCM. Nor does a 15% increase in re-mineralization rate (assuming Q10?=?2; 2°C warming) have significant effect on net sub-surface oxygen accumulation. However, changes in the relative production of particulate (POM) and dissolved organic material (DOM) generate relatively large changes in net sub-surface oxygen production. As POM/DOM production is a function of plankton community composition, this implies plankton biodiversity and food web structure may be important factors influencing O2 production in a warmer ocean.