Turbulent Mixing in fine-scale phytoplankton layers: Observations and inferences of layer dynamics

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Turbulence measurements in fine-scale phytoplankton layers in the Gulf of Aqaba (Red Sea) were used to evaluate mechanisms of layer formation, maintenance, and breakdown. Simultaneous profiles of chlorophyll a (Chl a) fluorescence and temperature microstructure were measured in the upper 40 m of a 430 m water column over a 16-d period, using a Self Contained Autonomous MicroProfiler (SCAMP). Layers of concentrated phytoplankton were identified in 95 of the 456 profiles. The layers were situated in density stratified regions between 15 and 38 m depth and were characterized by intensities of 0.1 to 0.35 μg Chl a L−1 (as much as two times background concentrations) and an average thickness of 10 m. We show that turbulent mixing and isopycnal displacements associated with internal waves modulated the thickness of the layers. Variations in mixing rates within layers were connected to the vertical structure of the stratified turbulence and the stage of layer development. The breakdown of a persistent phytoplankton layer was tied to strong turbulent mixing at the base of the surface mixed layer, which encroached on the layer from above. Hydrographic observations and scaling analysis suggest that the layers most likely formed in horizontal intrusions from the adjacent coastal region. The cross-shore propagation of phytoplankton-rich intrusions may have important implications for the trophic state of offshore planktonic communities.

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