Physical and biological processes underlying the sudden surface appearance of a red tide in the nearshore

Melissa M. Omand, James J. Leichter, Peter J. S. Franks, R. T. Guza, Andrew J. Lucas and Falk Feddersen

Limnol. Oceanogr., 56(3), 2011, 787-801 | DOI: 10.4319/lo.2011.56.3.0787

ABSTRACT: The sudden appearance at the surface of an alongshore-parallel band of red tide near Huntington Beach, California, is described in high spatial and temporal resolution using novel instrumentation including a global positioning system–tracked jet-ski. The scale of the surface chlorophyll a (Chl a) band was small (~ 200 m cross-shore) and ephemeral (3 h) compared with the subsurface extent of the red tide (~ 2 km, > 7 d). The red tide was dominated by the regionally common dinoflagellate Lingulodinium polyedrum (F. Stein) and had developed as a subsurface Chl a layer during the 7 d prior to the surface appearance. A few hours before the surface appearance, a subsurface patch of elevated Chl a (Chl a > 30 µg L−1) was observed in 13-m total depth in the trough of a shoreward-propagating internal wave, consistent with dinoflagellate vertical swimming interacting with the internal wave-driven convergence. Internal wave-breaking–induced vertical mixing in ~ 8-m water depth vertically spread the Chl a patch to the surface, creating the alongshore surface band ~ 500 m from shore. Both the subsurface Chl a patch and the surface Chl a band were prevented from entering the surf-zone by a density barrier of warm water adjacent to the beach. These high-resolution observations emphasize the role of nearshore physical dynamics in controlling the duration and intensity of red tide exposure to coastal habitats.

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