Wind-forced phytoplankton patchiness at fronts

Fronts are regions of strong horizontal density gradients in the ocean. The strong horizontal pressure gradients generated at the front are often balanced by the Coriolis force, leading to strong along-front currents. When these two forces are not perfectly balanced, vertical circulations can be generated at the front. These vertical circulations have the potential of bringing deep, nutrient-rich waters into the well-lit surface waters, and stimulating phytoplankton growth. Fronts are typically the site of subsurface patches of phytoplankton, however, we do not have a good understanding of the physical and biological processes that maintain these patches.

One of the forcings known to have a strong influence on fronts is the wind. We have developed a mixed-layer/primitive-equation/ecosystem model to study the effects of wind on phytoplankton growth at fronts. This model showed that wind can stimulate the formation of phytoplankton patches, and that the wind direction relative to the front strongly determines the resulting patch structure.

Animations in fli/flc format can be found here

This work was funded in part by UCAR and by U.S. GLOBEC

Franks, P.J.S. 1992. Phytoplankton blooms at fronts: patterns, scales and
     physical forcing mechanisms. Reviews in Aquatic Sciences 6:121-137.

Franks, P.J.S. 1992. Sink or swim: accumulation of biomass at fronts.
     Marine Ecology Progress Series 82:1-12.

Franks, P.J.S. and L.J. Walstad. 1997. Phytoplankton patches at fronts:
      a model of formation and response to transient wind events.
      Journal of Marine Research 55:1-30.

Click here to download a Postscript version of the Franks and Walstad manuscript and its figures.

E-mail below for a reprint

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Peter J.S. Franks
Scripps Institution of Oceanography
University of California, San Diego
La Jolla, CA 92093-0218