Articles | Volume 7, issue 10
Research article
14 Oct 2010
Research article |  | 14 Oct 2010

The most oligotrophic subtropical zones of the global ocean: similarities and differences in terms of chlorophyll and yellow substance

A. Morel, H. Claustre, and B. Gentili

Abstract. The cores of the subtropical anticyclonic gyres are characterized by their oligotrophic status and minimal chlorophyll concentration, compared to that of the whole ocean. These zones are unambiguously detected by space borne ocean color sensors thanks to their typical spectral reflectance, which is that of extremely clear and deep blue waters. Not only the low chlorophyll (denoted [Chl]) level, but also a reduced amount of colored dissolved organic matter (CDOM or "yellow substance") account for this clarity. The oligotrophic waters of the North and South Pacific gyres, the North and South Atlantic gyres, and the South Indian gyre have been comparatively studied with respect to both [Chl] and CDOM contents, by using 10-year data (1998–2007) of the Sea-viewing Wide field-of-view Sensor (SeaWiFS, NASA). Albeit similar these oligotrophic zones are not identical regarding their [Chl] and CDOM contents, as well as their seasonal cycles. According to the zone, the averaged [Chl] value varies from 0.026 to 0.059 mg m−3, whereas the ay(443) average (the absorption coefficient due to CDOM at 443 nm) is between 0.0033 and 0.0072 m−1. The CDOM-to-[Chl] relative proportions also differ between the zones. The clearest waters, corresponding to the lowest [Chl] and CDOM concentrations, are found near Easter Island and near Mariana Islands in the western part of the North Pacific Ocean. In spite of its low [Chl], the Sargasso Sea presents the highest CDOM content amongst the six zones studied. Except in the North Pacific gyre (near Mariana and south of Hawaii islands), a conspicuous seasonality appears to be the rule in the other 4 gyres and affects both [Chl] and CDOM; both quantities vary in a ratio of about 2 (maximum-to-minimum). Coinciding [Chl] and CDOM peaks occur just after the local winter solstice, which is also the period of the maximal mixed layer depth in these latitudes. It is hypothesized that the vertical transport of unbleached CDOM from the subthermocline layers is the main process enhancing the CDOM concentration within the upper layer in winter. In summer, the CDOM experiences its minimum which is delayed with respect to the [Chl] minimum; apparently, the solar photo-bleaching of CDOM is a slower process than the post-bloom algal Chl decay. Where they exist, the seasonal cycles are repeated without notable change from year to year. Long term (10 y) trends have not been detected in these zones. These oligotrophic gyres can conveniently be used for in-flight calibration and comparison of ocean color sensors, provided that their marked seasonal variations are accounted for.

Final-revised paper