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Observations on larval fish transport and retention on the Scotian Shelf in relation to geostrophic circulation

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We draw inferences about the dynamic processes responsible for the dispersal of ichthyoplankton on small marine banks using physical and biological data derived from static point-estimates of water-mass characteristics and ichthyoplankton collected concomitantly on the central Scotian Shelf. Where the density field evolves slowly and ageostrophic forcing is weak, the near-surface geostrophic flow can be derived from hydrographic data using the dynamic height method modified for shallow seas. We assess our interpretations of larval distributions using simple particle tracking. The hydrography of the Scotian Shelf during November of 1997 was typical of late autumn, when density is determined by surface variation in salinity. Surface isopycnals generally paralleled isobaths, and there was no evidence of strong surface fronts. Sizes of larvae of pelagic origin (e.g. cod and hake) on Western Bank (sole spawning source) increased and became skewed towards larger animals (cod, 3–10 mm; hake, 5–15 mm) in water-mass (Temperature and Salinity) space along isopycnals, consistent with gradual mixing and limited transport in the geostrophic flow (i.e. retention). Conversely, larvae of benthic origin (e.g. herring, 6–25 mm) were distributed across water-mass space, consistent with multiple origins and substantial transport. Our results indicate that dispersal from small, low-energy marine banks results from the interaction of spawning location, geostrophic currents and bathymetric steering, and requires neither convergence nor larval behaviour.
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Keywords: Atlantic herring; Clupea harengus; Gadus morhua; Hake; Merluccius billinearis; Scotian Shelf; circulation; cod; diagnostic calculation; marine banks; operational oceanography; optimal interpolation; retention; transport; variational algorithm

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 1: Department of Biology, Dalhousie University, Halifax, NS, Canada B3H 4J1, 2: Department of Oceanography, Dalhousie University, Halifax, NS, Canada B3H 4J1, 3: Department of Physics and Physical Oceanography, The Memorial University of Newfoundland, St Johns, NF, Canada A1B 3X7,

Publication date: 2000-09-01

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