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Free Content Influences of physical oceanographic processes on chlorophyll distributions in coastal and estuarine waters of the South Atlantic Bight

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Coastal and estuarine waters of the South Atlantic Bight are highly productive, with primary production of 600-700 gC/m2/y. While controls and fate of this production are conceptually well understood, the importance of meteorology and physical circulation processes on phytoplankton has not received equivalent attention. Here, we describe the effects of wind stress and tidal currents on temporal and spatial distributions of phytoplankton biomass represented as chlorophyll a (chl a). Moored instruments were deployed and shipboard sampling was conducted in the North Edisto estuary (South Carolina) and adjacent inner shelf waters during four, two-week field studies in May and August 1993, and June and September 1994. Local wind regimes induced upwelling- and downwelling-favorable conditions which strengthened or reduced vertical density stratification in the coastal frontal zone, respectively, and shifted the location of the front. Chl a in shelf waters was more or less homogenous independent of the wind regime, while chl a on the estuary delta was generally vertically stratified. Within the estuary, chl a concentrations were positively correlated with the alongshore component of wind stress; chl a was not correlated with the weaker cross-shelf component of wind stress. Highest chl a occurred during strong downwelling-favorable events. The quick response time to wind forcing (6-12 hrs) implied a direct effect on chl a distributions and not a stimulation of growth processes. The source of the elevated chl a in response to wind forcing was apparently resuspension of settled and epibenthic algal cells. Tidal currents also influenced the vertical distribution and concentration of chl a. Time series sampling on the estuary delta showed that, with increasing velocity of ebb and flood tide currents, the relative contributions of pennate and centric diatoms with attached detritus and sand grains also increased, indicating that tidal resuspension of settled and epibenthic microalgae also occurred. Vertical stratification of chl a (highest concentrations near the bottom) began to degrade upon mixing by tidal currents with velocities as low as 10 cm/sec. Homogenization of 5-7 m water columns was fully achieved at velocities of 20-30 cm/sec. The data document the direct and comparatively immediate (timescales of minuteshours) impact of tidal and wind energy on concentrations and distribution patterns of phytoplankton in coastal and estuarine waters of the South Atlantic Bight.

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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: 1998-05-01

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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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