Wind, mixed-layer depth and Chl-a variability in the Southern Ocean

Friday, 19 December 2014
Sarah T Gille, UCSD, La Jolla, CA, United States, Magdalena M Carranza, Scripps Institution of Oceanography, La Jolla, CA, United States, Peter J. S. Franks, University of California San Diego, La Jolla, CA, United States, James B Girton, Univ Washington, Seattle, WA, United States and Kenneth S Johnson, MBARI, Moss Landing, CA, United States
The Southern Ocean, contains some of the ocean's deepest mixed layers and is under the constant influence of strong winds and buoyancy forcing. Phytoplankton growth is hypothesized to be co-limited by iron and light. Because deep mixed layers can transport phytoplankton below the depth of the euphotic zone, light levels depend on mixed-layer depth. We use satellite winds from multiple wind sensors, combined with Argo data, to show that deep mixed layers are generally correlated with strong winds over the Southern Ocean. These deep mixed layers correspond to cold sea surface temperatures. This might also be expected to lead to nutrient upwelling and high chlorophyll-a (Chl-a), as measured by satellite ocean color sensors. However, Chl-a is less strongly correlated with wind speed than SST is, particularly at the mesoscale, and in summer Chl-a is not well correlated with mixed-layer depth. Using new in situ observations of subsurface Chl-a from sensors on southern elephant seals, EM-APEX floats, and bio-optical Argo floats, we find that Chl-a typically has a subsurface maximum in spring, summer, and fall. As a result satellite-sensed Chl-a is an inadequate measure of total biomass within the mixed layer. Satellite Chl-a and integrated Chl-a over the euphotic zone are negatively correlated with MLD from fall through spring, and uncorrelated during the summer. However, integrated Chl-a within the mixed layer shows significant positive correlations with MLD in all seasons. The fact that the deep Chl-a maximum sits at the base of the MLD, closer to the nutrient (or iron) maximum than the light maximum, suggests nutrient limitation plays a greater role than light limitation in governing productivity, and that wind and buoyancy forcing likely govern the mixing processes at the base of the mixed layer that control phytoplankton growth.