A biooptical model of irradiance distribution and photosynthesis in seagrass canopies

Zimmerman, Richard C.

Limnol. Oceanogr., 48(1_part_2), 2003, 568-585 | DOI: 10.4319/lo.2003.48.1_part_2.0568

ABSTRACT: Although extremely vulnerable to coastal eutrophication, seagrasses represent important structuring elements and sources of primary production in shallow waters. They also generate an optical signature that can be tracked remotely. Accurate knowledge of light absorption and scattering by submerged plant canopies permits the calculation of important plant- and ecosystem-level properties, including rates of photosynthesis, vegetation abundance, and distribution. The objectives of this study were to develop a realistic, yet simply parameterized two-flow model of plane irradiance distribution through a seagrass canopy submerged in an optically active water column, to evaluate its performance against in situ measurements, and to explore the impacts of variations in canopy architecture on irradiance distribution and photosynthesis within the canopy. Allometric functions derived from leaf length-frequency data enabled simple parameterization of canopy architecture. Model predictions of downwelling spectral irradiance distributions in seagrass canopies growing in both oligotrophic and eutrophic waters were within 15% of field measurements. Thus, the model provides a robust tool for investigating photosynthetic performance of seagrass canopies as functions of water quality, depth distribution, canopy architecture, and leaf orientation. Model predictions of upwelling irradiance were less reliable, particularly in the upper half of the canopies. The model was more sensitive to leaf orientation than leaf optical properties, seabed reflectance, or the average cosine of downwelling irradiance. Better knowledge of leaf orientation appears to be a fruitful avenue for improving our understanding of the interaction between seagrasses and the submarine light environment.

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