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Biogeosciences An interactive open-access journal of the European Geosciences Union
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Volume 8, issue 3
Biogeosciences, 8, 657–666, 2011
© Author(s) 2011. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License.
Biogeosciences, 8, 657–666, 2011
© Author(s) 2011. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License.

Research article 14 Mar 2011

Research article | 14 Mar 2011

Silicate:nitrate ratios of upwelled waters control the phytoplankton community sustained by mesoscale eddies in sub-tropical North Atlantic and Pacific

T. S. Bibby and C. M. Moore T. S. Bibby and C. M. Moore
  • School of Ocean and Earth Sciences, National Oceanography Centre, Southampton, University of Southampton, European Way, Southampton, SO14 3ZH, UK

Abstract. Mesoscale eddies in sub-tropical gyres physically perturb the water column and can introduce macronutrients to the euphotic zone, stimulating a biological response in which phytoplankton communities can become dominated by large phytoplankton. Mesoscale eddies may therefore be important in driving export in oligotrophic regions of the modern ocean. However, the character and magnitude of the biological response sustained by eddies is variable. Here we present data from mesoscale eddies in the Sargasso Sea (Atlantic) and the waters off Hawai'i (Pacific), alongside mesoscale events that affected the Bermuda Atlantic Time-Series Study (BATS) over the past decade. From this analysis, we suggest that the phytoplankton community structure sustained by mesoscale eddies is predetermined by the relative abundance of silicate over nitrate (Si*) in the upwelled waters. We present data that demonstrate that mode-water eddies (MWE) in the Sargasso Sea upwell locally formed waters with relatively high Si* to the euphotic zone, and that cyclonic eddies in the Sargasso Sea introduce waters with relatively low Si*, a signature that originated in the iron-limited Southern Ocean. We propose that this phenomenon can explain the observed dominance of the phytoplankton community by large-diatom species in MWE and by small prokaryotic phytoplankton in cyclonic features. In contrast to the Atlantic, North Pacific Intermediate Water (NPIW) with high Si* may influence the cyclonic eddies in waters off Hawai'i, which also appear capable of sustaining diatom populations. These observations suggest that the structure of phytoplankton communities sustained by eddies may be related to the chemical composition of the upwelled waters in addition to the physical nature of the eddy.

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