A Sea of Change: Biogeochemical Variability in the North Pacific Subtropical Gyre
The North Pacific Subtropical Gyre (NPSG) is the largest ecosystem on our planet. However, this expansive habitat is also remote, poorly sampled, and therefore not well understood. For example, the most abundant oxygenic phototroph in the NPSG, Prochlorococcus, was described only a decade ago. Other novel Bacteria, Archaea and Eukarya, recently identified by nucleic acid sequence analysis, have not been isolated. In October 1988, an ocean time-series research program was established to study ecosystem processes in the gyre, including rates and pathways of carbon and energy flow, spatial and temporal scales of variability, and coupling of ocean physics to biogeochemical processes. After a decade of ecosystem surveillance, this sentinel observatory has produced an unprecedented data set and some new views of an old ocean. Foremost is evidence for dramatic changes in microbial community structure and in mechanisms of nutrient cycling in response to large-scale ocean–atmosphere interactions. These and other observations demand reassessment of current views of physical-biogeochemical processes in this and other open-ocean ecosystems.