MEPS 166:83-97 (1998)  -  doi:10.3354/meps166083

Breaking internal waves on a Florida (USA) coral reef: a plankton pump at work?

James J. Leichter1,*, Gregory Shellenbarger2, Salvatore J. Genovese3, Stephen R. Wing4

1Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, Department of Biology, MS #34, Woods Hole, Massachusetts 02543, USA 21 Lincoln Street, Marblehead, Massachusetts 01945, USA 3Northeastern University, Marine Science Center, Nahant, Massachusetts 01908, USA 4Department of Marine Science, University of Otago, 304 Castle Street, Dunedin, New Zealand

Temperature, salinity, flow speeds, and plankton concentrations can be highly variable on the slope of Conch Reef, Florida Keys (USA), as warm surface water is mixed with cool, subsurface water forced onshore by broken internal waves. In August 1995 the water column seaward of the reef exhibited strong temperature and density stratification with a sharp pycnocline and associated subsurface chlorophyll a maximum layer at 45 to 60 m depth. On the reef slope, near-bottom zooplankton sampling at 22 to 28 m showed high concentrations of calanoid copepods, crab zoea, and fish larvae associated with upslope flow of cool, chlorophyll-rich water. In contrast to these periods of high concentrations, zooplankton concentrations were low during periods of long-shore and offshore flow of warm surface waters. Both the frequency of internal bore arrival and the mean duration of cool water events increase with increasing depth on the reef slope. Delivery of zooplankton to the reef is, therefore, also expected to increase with depth. A short-term settlement experiment showed increased settlement of serpulid worms at 20 and 30 m depth compared with 15 m, and a 15.5 mo transplant experiment showed significantly enhanced growth rates of the suspension-feeding coral Madracis mirabilis (Scleractinia: Pocilloporidae) at 30 m depth relative to growth at 15 or 20 m. Internal tidal bores appear to be a predictable, periodic source of cross-shelf transport to Florida coral reefs and an important influence on the spatial and temporal heterogeneity of suspended food particles and larval delivery to the benthos.


Internal waves · Internal bores · Zooplankton · Transport


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