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Frontal dynamics boost primary production in the summer stratified Mediterranean sea
Olita, A.; Capet, A.; Claret, M.; Mahadevan, A.; Poulain, P.M.; Ribotti, A.; Ruiz, S.; Tintoré, J.; Tovar-Sanchez, A.; Pascual, A. (2017). Frontal dynamics boost primary production in the summer stratified Mediterranean sea. Ocean Dynamics 67(6): 767-782.
In: Ocean Dynamics. Springer-Verlag: Berlin; Heidelberg; New York. ISSN 1616-7341; e-ISSN 1616-7228, more
Peer reviewed article  

Available in  Authors 

Author keywords
    Primary production; Glider; Mediterranean sea; Fronts; sub-mesoscale;AOU

Authors  Top 
  • Olita, A.
  • Capet, A., more
  • Claret, M.
  • Mahadevan, A.
  • Poulain, P.M.
  • Ribotti, A.
  • Ruiz, S.
  • Tintoré, J.
  • Tovar-Sanchez, A.
  • Pascual, A.

    Bio-physical glider measurements from a unique process-oriented experiment in the Eastern Alboran Sea (AlborEx) allowed us to observe the distribution of the deep chlorophyll maximum (DCM) across an intense density front, with a resolution (∼ 400 m) suitable for investigating sub-mesoscale dynamics. This front, at the interface between Atlantic and Mediterranean waters, had a sharp density gradient (Δρ ∼ 1 kg/m3 in ∼ 10 km) and showed imprints of (sub-)mesoscale phenomena on tracer distributions. Specifically, the chlorophyll-a concentration within the DCM showed a disrupted pattern along isopycnal surfaces, with patches bearing a relationship to the stratification (buoyancy frequency) at depths between 30 and 60 m. In order to estimate the primary production (PP) rate within the chlorophyll patches observed at the sub-surface, we applied the Morel and Andrè (J Geophys Res 96:685–698 1991) bio-optical model using the photosynthetic active radiation (PAR) from Argo profiles collected simultaneously with glider data. The highest production was located concurrently with domed isopycnals on the fresh side of the front, suggestive that (sub-)mesoscale upwelling is carrying phytoplankton patches from less to more illuminated levels, with a contemporaneous delivering of nutrients. Integrated estimations of PP (1.3 g C m−2d−1) along the glider path are two to four times larger than the estimations obtained from satellite-based algorithms, i.e., derived from the 8-day composite fields extracted over the glider trip path. Despite the differences in spatial and temporal sampling between instruments, the differences in PP estimations are mainly due to the inability of the satellite to measure DCM patches responsible for the high production. The deepest (depth > 60 m) chlorophyll patches are almost unproductive and probably transported passively (subducted) from upper productive layers. Finally, the relationship between primary production and oxygen is also investigated. The logarithm of the primary production in the DCM interior (chlorophyll (Chl) > 0.5 mg/m3) shows a linear negative relationship with the apparent oxygen utilization, confirming that high chlorophyll patches are productive. The slope of this relationship is different for Atlantic, mixed interface waters and Mediterranean waters, suggesting the presence of differences in planktonic communities (whether physiological, population, or community level should be object of further investigation) on the different sides of the front. In addition, the ratio of optical backscatter to Chl is high within the intermediate (mixed) waters, which is suggestive of large phytoplankton cells, and lower within the core of the Atlantic and Mediterranean waters. These observations highlight the relevance of fronts in triggering primary production at DCM level and shaping the characteristic patchiness of the pelagic domain. This gains further relevance considering the inadequacy of optical satellite sensors to observe DCM concentrations at such fine scales.

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