Quantifying the biological impact of surface ocean light attenuation by colored detrital matter in an ESM using a new optical parameterization
Abstract. Light attenuation by colored detrital material (CDM) was included in a fully coupled Earth system model (ESM). This study presents a modified parameterization for shortwave attenuation, which is an empirical relationship between 244 concurrent measurements of the diffuse attenuation coefficient for downwelling irradiance, chlorophyll concentration and light absorption by CDM. Two ESM model runs using this parameterization were conducted, with and without light absorption by CDM. The light absorption coefficient for CDM was prescribed as the average of annual composite MODIS Aqua satellite data from 2002 to 2013. Comparing results from the two model runs shows that changes in light limitation associated with the inclusion of CDM decoupled trends between surface biomass and nutrients. Increases in surface biomass were expected to accompany greater nutrient uptake and therefore diminish surface nutrients. Instead, surface chlorophyll, biomass and nutrients increased together. These changes can be attributed to the different impact of light limitation on surface productivity versus total productivity. Chlorophyll and biomass increased near the surface but decreased at greater depths when CDM was included. The net effect over the euphotic zone was less total biomass leading to higher nutrient concentrations. Similar results were found in a regional analysis of the oceans by biome, investigating the spatial variability of response to changes in light limitation using a single parameterization for the surface ocean. In coastal regions, surface chlorophyll increased by 35 % while total integrated phytoplankton biomass diminished by 18 %. The largest relative increases in modeled surface chlorophyll and biomass in the open ocean were found in the equatorial biomes, while the largest decreases in depth-integrated biomass and chlorophyll were found in the subpolar and polar biomes. This mismatch of surface and subsurface trends and their regional dependence was analyzed by comparing the competing factors of diminished light availability and increased nutrient availability on phytoplankton growth in the upper 200 m. Understanding changes in biological productivity requires both surface and depth-resolved information. Surface trends may be minimal or of the opposite sign than depth-integrated amounts, depending on the vertical structure of phytoplankton abundance.