Shutdown of turbulent convection as a new criterion for the onset of spring phytoplankton blooms

John R. Taylor and Raffaele Ferrari

Limnol. Oceanogr., 56(6), 2011, 2293-2307 | DOI: 10.4319/lo.2011.56.6.2293

ABSTRACT: The onset of phytoplankton blooms in late winter, early spring has been traditionally associated with the shoaling of the mixed layer above a critical depth. Here we show that the onset of a bloom can also be triggered by a reduction in air–sea fluxes at the end of winter. When net cooling subsides at the end of winter, turbulent mixing becomes weak, thereby increasing the residence time of phytoplankton cells in the euphotic layer and allowing a bloom to develop. The necessary change in the air–sea flux generally precedes mixed-layer shoaling, and may provide a better indicator for the onset of the spring bloom than the mixed-layer depth alone. Our hypothesis is supported by numerical simulations and remote sensing data.

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