Articles | Volume 14, issue 22
Research article
28 Nov 2017
Research article |  | 28 Nov 2017

Tune in on 11.57 µHz and listen to primary production

Tom J. S. Cox, Justus E. E. van Beusekom, and Karline Soetaert

Abstract. In this paper we present an elegant approach to reconstruct slowly varying gross primary production (GPP) as a function of time, based on O2 time series. The approach, called complex demodulation, is based on a direct analogy with amplitude-modulated (AM) radio signals. The O2 concentrations oscillating at the diel frequency (or 11.57 µHz) can be seen as a carrier wave, while the time variation in the amplitude of this carrier wave is related to the time-varying GPP. The relation follows from an analysis in the frequency domain of the governing equations of O2 dynamics. After the theoretical derivation, we assess the performance of the approach by applying it to three artificial O2 time series, generated with models representative of a well-mixed vertical water column, a river and an estuary. These models are forced with hourly observed incident irradiance, resulting in a variability of GPP on scales from hours to months. The dynamic build-up of algal biomass further increases the seasonality. Complex demodulation allows for reconstruction, with great precision, of time-varying GPP of the vertical water column and the river model. Surprisingly, it is possible to derive daily averaged GPP – complex demodulation thus reconstructs the amplitude of every single diel cycle. Also, in estuaries time-varying GPP can be reconstructed to a great extent. But there, the influence of the tides prevent achieving the same temporal resolution. In particular, the combination of horizontal O2 gradients with quasi-diurnal harmonics in the tides interferes with the complex demodulation procedure and introduces spurious amplitude variation that can not be attributed to GPP. We demonstrate that these spurious effects also occur in real-world time series (Hörnum Tief, Germany). The spurious effects due to K1 and P1 quasi-diurnals can not be distinguished from GPP. However, the spurious fluctuations introduced by O1 and Q1 can be removed to a large extent by increasing the averaging time to 15 days. As such, we demonstrate that a good estimate of the running 15-day average of GPP can be obtained in tidal systems. Apart from the direct merits of estimating GPP from O2 time series, the analysis in the frequency domain enhances our insights into O2 dynamics in tidal systems in general, and into the performance of O2 methods to estimate GPP in particular.

Short summary
Photosynthesis by phytoplankton is a key source of oxygen (O2) in aquatic systems. We have developed a mathematical technique to calculate the rate of photosynthesis from time series of O2. Additionally, the approach leads to a better understanding of the influence on O2 measurements of the tides in coasts and estuaries. The results are important for correctly interpreting the data that are gathered by a growing set of continuous O2 sensors that are deployed around the world.
Final-revised paper