Optical effect on the nitracline in a coastal upwelling area

Aksnes, Dag L., Mark D. Ohman, Pascal Rivière

Limnol. Oceanogr., 52(3), 2007, 1179-1187 | DOI: 10.4319/lo.2007.52.3.1179

ABSTRACT: The transport of nitrate into the euphotic zone is an important regulator of primary production. This transport is facilitated by physical processes that involve the depth and the steepness of the nitracline, but transport is complicated by the dynamical nature of the euphotic zone. Here we derive an analytical model that predicts two optical effects of the euphotic zone on the nitracline: the nitracline depth should vary inversely with light attenuation for downwelling irradiance, and the nitracline steepness should be directly proportional to light attenuation. We show that observations of nitrate and Secchi depth, which have been obtained over 21 yr in the coastal upwelling region off Southern California (CalCOFI area), are consistent with these predictions. Chlorophyll a measurements also indicate an optical signature in the nitracline: while the amount of chlorophyll correlated poorly with the nitracline depth, the nitracline depth correlated strongly with the optical effect of chlorophyll, and the nonlinear nature of this relationship was consistent with the model prediction. These optical effects on the nitracline may involve positive feedback mechanisms with phytoplankton production that have implications for interpretation and modeling of primary production.

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