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Free Content A nitrogen-based model of plankton dynamics in the oceanic mixed layer

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As a first step toward the development of coupled, basin scale models of ocean circulation and biogeochemical cycling, we present a model of the annual cycles of plankton dynamics and nitrogen cycling in the oceanic mixed layer. The model is easily modified and runs in FORTRAN on a personal computer. In our initial development and exploration of the model's behavior we have concentrated on modeling the annual cycle at Station "S" near Bermuda using seven compartments (Phytoplankton, Zooplankton, Bacteria, Nitrate, Ammonium, Dissolved organic nitrogen and Detritus). This choice of compartments and the attendant flows (fluxes or intercompartmental exchanges) permits a functional distinction between new and regenerated production. We have examined over 200 different runs and carried out sensitivity analyses. Results of model runs with detrital sinking rates of 1 and 10 meters per day are presented. In these runs, the phytoplankton biomass-specific mortality rate was varied to adjust the annual net primary production (NPP) for the mixed layer to a value equivalent to 45 gC m−2, which was calculated from the literature. Modelled cycles of zooplankton and bacterial stocks, and magnitudes of their annual production which cannot be validated due to sparse observations, are driven by the amplitude of the spring bloom and by changes in foodweb structure. Most, but not all model runs exhibit a spring bloom triggered by the winter depression of zooplankton stocks and the vernal increase in solar irradiance. The bloom is driven by nitrate entrained into the mixed layer during the wintertime deepening of the mixed layer. Following the shoaling of the pycnocline to ca 20 m, nitrate supply is limited to diffusional inputs, nitrate stocks are depleted, and regenerated production exceeds new production. The resulting cycles of new and regenerated production produce an annual cycle of the f-ratio with winter maxima approaching 0.8–0.9 and summer minima reaching ca 0.1–0.2, with annual values averaging 0.7. The model reproduces the "Eppley Curve," a hyperbolic relationship of increasing f with increasing primary production. This curve is shown to be the trajectory of the production system in the f-NPP phase plane. These model runs reproduce the annual cycles of areal NPP, and average annual NPP, new production, and particulate N flux values reported in the literature. The model demonstrates that currently accepted values for these annual fluxes can be reconciled only if the f-ratio has a high annual average. At present, the annual average f-ratio is poorly quantified due to severe undersampling in fall and winter. Our model's ecological structure has been successfully incorporated into the Princeton general circulation model for the North Atlantic Ocean.

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: August 1, 1990

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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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