Articles | Volume 4, issue 6
29 Nov 2007
29 Nov 2007

Optical backscattering properties of the "clearest" natural waters

M. S. Twardowski, H. Claustre, S. A. Freeman, D. Stramski, and Y. Huot

Abstract. During the BIOSOPE field campaign October–December 2004, measurements of inherent optical properties from the surface to 500 m depth were made with a ship profiler at stations covering over 8000 km through the Southeast Pacific Ocean. Data from a ~3000 km section containing the very clearest waters in the central gyre are reported here. The total volume scattering function at 117°, βt(117°), was measured with a WET Labs ECO-BB3 sensor at 462, 532, and 650 nm with estimated uncertainties of 2×10-5, 5×10-6, and 2×10-6 m−1 sr−1, respectively. These values were approximately 6%, 3%, and 3% of the volume scattering by pure seawater at their respective wavelengths. From a methodological perspective, there were several results:

– distributions were resolvable even though some of the values from the central gyre were an order of magnitude lower than the lowest previous measurements in the literature;
– Direct in-situ measurements of instrument dark offsets were necessary to accurately resolve backscattering at these low levels;
– accurate pure seawater backscattering values are critical in determining particulate backscattering coefficients in the open ocean (not only in these very clear waters); the pure water scattering values determined by Buiteveld et al. (1994) with a [1+0.3S/37] adjustment for salinity based on Morel (1974) appear to be the most accurate estimates, with aggregate accuracies as low as a few percent; and
– closure was demonstrated with subsurface reflectance measurements reported by Morel et al. (2007) within instrument precisions, a useful factor in validating the backscattering measurements.

This methodology enabled several observations with respect to the hydrography and the use of backscattering as a biogeochemical proxy:

–The clearest waters sampled were found at depths between 300 and 350 m, from 23.5° S, 118° W to 26° S, 114° W, where total backscattering at 650 nm was not distinguishable from pure seawater;
–Distributions of particulate backscattering bbp across the central gyre exhibited a broad particle peak centered ~100 m;
–The particulate backscattering ratio typically ranged between 0.4% and 0.6% at 650 nm through the majority of the central gyre from the surface to ~210 m, indicative of "soft" water-filled particles with low bulk refractive index; and
– bbp showed a distinct secondary deeper layer centered ~230 m that was absent in particulate attenuation cp data. The particulate backscattering ratio was significantly higher in this layer than in the rest of the water column, reaching 1.2% in some locations. This high relative backscattering, along with the pigment composition and ecological niche of this layer, appear to be consistent with the coccolithophorid Florisphaera profunda.

Moreover, results were consistent with several expectations extrapolated from theory and previous work in oceanic and coastal regions, supporting the conclusion that particulate and total backscattering could be resolved in these extremely clear natural waters.

Final-revised paper