Photosynthesis Research

, Volume 39, Issue 3, pp 303–320 | Cite as

Ultraviolet radiation, ozone depletion, and marine photosynthesis

  • John J. Cullen
  • Patrick J. Neale
Oceanic photosynthesis Minireview


Concerns about stratospheric ozone depletion have stimulated interest in the effects of UVB radiation (280–320 nm) on marine phytoplankton. Research has shown that phytoplankton photosynthesis can be severely inhibited by surface irradiance and that much of the effect is due to UV radiation. Quantitative generalization of these results requires a biological weighting function (BWF) to quantify UV exposure appropriately. Different methods have been employed to infer the general shape of the BWF for photoinhibition in natural phytoplankton, and recently, detailed BWFs have been determined for phytoplankton cultures and natural samples. Results show that although UVB photons are more damaging than UVA (320–400 nm), the greater fluxes of UVA in the ocean cause more UV inhibition. Models can be used to analyze the sensitivity of water column productivity to UVB and ozone depletion. Assumptions about linearity and time-dependence strongly influence the extrapolation of results. Laboratory measurements suggest that UV inhibition can reach a steady-state consistent with a balance between damage and recovery processes, leading to a non-linear relationship between weighted fluence rate and inhibition. More testing for natural phytoplankton is required, however. The relationship between photoinhibition of photosynthesis and decreases in growth rate is poorly understood, so long-term effects of ozone depletion are hard to predict. However, the wide variety of sensitivities between species suggests that some changes in species composition are likely. Predicted effects of ozone depletion on marine photosynthesis cannot be equated to changes in carbon flux between the atmosphere and ocean. Nonetheless, properly designed studies on the effects of UVB can help identify which physiological and ecological processes are most likely to dominate the responses of marine ecosystems to ozone depletion.

Key words

phytoplankton primary production growth action spectrum biogeochemical cycling 



biological weighting function


photosynthesis versus photosynthetically available irradiance as influenced by biologically-weighted UV


chlorophyll a


dissolved organic matter


irradiance in energy units (PAR)


saturation parameter for PAR in the BWF/P-I model


biologically-weighted dimensionless fluence rate for photoinhibition of photosynthesis by UV and PAR


biological weighting coefficient

% MathType!MTEF!2!1!+-% feaafiart1ev1aaatCvAUfeBSjuyZL2yd9gzLbvyNv2CaerbuLwBLn% hiov2DGi1BTfMBaeXatLxBI9gBaerbd9wDYLwzYbItLDharqqtubsr% 4rNCHbGeaGqiVu0Je9sqqrpepC0xbbL8F4rqqrFfpeea0xe9Lq-Jc9% vqaqpepm0xbba9pwe9Q8fs0-yqaqpepae9pg0FirpepeKkFr0xfr-x% fr-xb9adbaqaaeGaciGaaiaabeqaamaabaabaaGcbaGafqyTduMbae% baaaa!37AC!\[\bar \varepsilon \]PAR

biological weighting coefficient for damage to photosynthesis by EPAR


diffuse attenuation coefficient for wavelength λ


mycosporine-like amino acids


photosynthetically available radiation


rate of photosynthesis normalized to Chl


maximum attainable rate of photosynthesis in the absence of photoinhibition


ultraviolet A (320–400 nm)


ultraviolet B (280–320 nm)


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Copyright information

© Kluwer Academic Publishers 1994

Authors and Affiliations

  • John J. Cullen
    • 1
    • 2
  • Patrick J. Neale
    • 3
  1. 1.Department of OceanographyDalhousie UniversityHalifaxCanada
  2. 2.Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean SciencesWest Boothbay HarborUSA
  3. 3.Smithsonian Environmental Research CenterEdgewaterUSA

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