Phytoplankton dynamics driven by vertical nutrient fluxes during the spring inter-monsoon period in the northeastern South China Sea
- State Key Lab of Tropical Oceanography, South China Sea Institute of Oceanology, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Guangzhou, China
Abstract. A field survey from the coastal ocean zones to the offshore pelagic zones of the northeastern South China Sea (nSCS) was conducted during the inter-monsoon period of May 2014 when the region was characterized by prevailing low-nutrient conditions. Comprehensive field measurements were made for not only hydrographic and biogeochemical properties but also phytoplankton growth and microzooplankton grazing rates. We also performed estimations of the vertical turbulent diffusivity and diffusive nutrient fluxes using a Thorpe-scale method and the upwelling nutrient fluxes by Ekman pumping using satellite-derived wind stress curl. Our results indicated a positive correlation between the integrated phytoplankton chlorophyll a and vertical nutrient fluxes in the offshore region of the nSCS during the study period. We generally found an increasing role of turbulent diffusion but a decreasing role of curl-driven upwelling in vertical transport of nutrients from the coastal ocean zones to the offshore pelagic zones. Elevated nutrient fluxes near Dongsha Islands supported high new production leading to net growth of the phytoplankton community, whereas the low fluxes near the southwest of Taiwan had resulted in a negative net community growth leading to decline of a surface phytoplankton bloom. Overall, phytoplankton dynamics in the large part of the nSCS could be largely driven by vertical nutrient fluxes including turbulent diffusion and curl-driven upwelling during the spring inter-monsoon period.