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Free Content Tidally generated high-frequency internal wave packets and their effects on plankton in Massachusetts Bay

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Tidally generated internal wave packets occur twice a day during late summer in Massachusetts Bay, U.S.A. The packets are formed at Stellwagen Bank and propagate into the Bay at about 60 cm sec—1; they dissipate in shallow water at the western side of the Bay. The dominant waves in packets have lengths of about 300 m, periods of between 8 and 10 min, and amplitudes of up to 30 m. Overturning of the waves has been observed acoustically over Stellwagen Bank, in the deep (80 m) waters in the center of the Bay, and during dissipation in shallow water. The effects of the internal waves on the distribution of plankton were investigated in August 1977 using an instrument package (Longhurst-Hardy Plankton Recorder, in situ fluorometer, CTD) towed either at a constant depth or following an isotherm through wave packets. Phytoplankton and zooplankton appear to be carried passively up and down by the internal waves; the data were insufficient to resolve any active response by zooplankton to vertical displacements by the waves. Vertical distributions of the plankton were altered by overturning of waves and subsequent mixing. Patterns of horizontal distributions of plankton determined by constant-depth tows were dominated by the effects of internal wave vertical displacements. Isotherm-following tows removed much of the variability due to wave displacement, but problems of following rapidly moving isotherms introduced considerable smaller-scale variability. Changes in zooplankton abundance on tow length scales (600-1200 m) were not correlated with temperature, salinity, or density; some significant correlations with chlorophyll fluorescence occurred when internal wave activity was present. Twice a day for several hours or more, phytoplankton were vertically displaced by as much as 30 m, with a period of about 10 min. The light level plant cells experienced varied from 0.1 to 26% of the ambient surface illumination. This rapid change in light should alter fluorescence yields of plant cells and affect continuous in situ measurements of chlorophyll fluorescence. The timing of internal wave packets varies with the semidiurnal tidal cycle and therefore interacts with the day-night cycle to significantly alter the light regime experienced by plant cells over a two-week period. This could affect the primary productivity of the Bay in the area affected by internal wave packets. The sporadic occurrence of internal wave overturning and mixing events in the deep waters of the Bay could enhance primary production by increasing nutrient input to the mixed layer. This effect should be greatly enhanced in the shallow waters where the internal waves dissipate. Comparison of acoustic and plankton recorder data showed that much of the intense acoustic backscattering seen in high-amplitude (10-20 m) internal waves is due to physical structure and processes, and not to the presence of zooplankton.

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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: 01 February 1983

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  • The Journal of Marine Research publishes peer-reviewed research articles covering a broad array of topics in physical, biological and chemical oceanography. Articles that deal with processes, as well as those that report significant observations, are welcome. In the area of biology, studies involving coupling between ecological and physical processes are preferred over those that report systematics. Authors benefit from thorough reviews of their manuscripts, where an attempt is made to maximize clarity. The time between submission and publication is kept to a minimum; there is no page charge.
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