Authors: Post, Alexandra L., O'Brien, Philip E., Beaman, Robin J., Riddle, Martin J., De Santis, Laura
Publication: Antarctic Science 22(04): 371-378. doi:10.1017/S0954102010000180
Dense coral-sponge communities on the upper continental slope at 570–950m off George V Land, East Antarctica have been identified as Vulnerable Marine Ecosystems. The challenge is now to understand their probable distribution on other parts of the Antarctic margin.
We propose three main factors governing their distribution on the George V margin: 1) their depth in relation to iceberg scouring, 2) the flow of organicrich bottom waters, and 3) their location at the head of shelf cutting canyons. Icebergs scour to 500m in this region and the lack of such disturbance is a probable factor allowing the growth of rich benthic ecosystems. In addition, the richest communities are found in the heads of canyons which receive descending plumes of Antarctic BottomWater formed on the George V shelf, which could entrain abundant food for the benthos. The canyons harbouring rich benthos are also those that cut the shelf break. Such canyons are known sites of high productivity in other areas due to strong current flow and increased mixing with shelf waters, and the abrupt, complex topography.
These proposed mechanisms provide a framework for the identification of areas where there is a higher likelihood of encountering these Vulnerable Marine Ecosystems.