MEPS 254:111-128 (2003)  -  doi:10.3354/meps254111

Effects of spatial and temporal variability of turbidity on phytoplankton blooms

Christine L. May1,*, Jeffrey R. Koseff1, Lisa V. Lucas2, James E. Cloern2, David H. Schoellhamer3

1Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, Stanford University, Stanford, California 94305-4020, USA
2US Geological Service, 345 Middlefield Road, Menlo Park, California 94025, USA
3US Geological Service, Placer Hall, 6000 J Street, Sacramento, California 95819-6129, USA

ABSTRACT: A central challenge of coastal ecology is sorting out the interacting spatial and temporal components of environmental variability that combine to drive changes in phytoplankton biomass. For 2 decades, we have combined sustained observation and experimentation in South San Francisco Bay (SSFB) with numerical modeling analyses to search for general principles that define phytoplankton population responses to physical dynamics characteristic of shallow, nutrient-rich coastal waters having complex bathymetry and influenced by tides, wind and river flow. This study is the latest contribution where we investigate light-limited phytoplankton growth using a numerical model, by modeling turbidity as a function of suspended sediment concentrations (SSC). The goal was to explore the sensitivity of estuarine phytoplankton dynamics to spatial and temporal variations in turbidity, and to synthesize outcomes of simulation experiments into a new conceptual framework for defining the combinations of physical-biological forcings that promote or preclude development of phytoplankton blooms in coastal ecosystems. The 3 main conclusions of this study are: (1) The timing of the wind with semidiurnal tides and the spring-neap cycle can significantly enhance spring-neap variability in turbidity and phytoplankton biomass; (2) Fetch is a significant factor potentially affecting phytoplankton dynamics by enhancing and/or creating spatial variability in turbidity; and (3) It is possible to parameterize the combined effect of the processes influencing turbidity‹and thus affecting potential phytoplankton bloom development‹with 2 indices for vertical and horizontal clearing of the water column. Our conceptual framework is built around these 2 indices, providing a means to determine under what conditions a phytoplankton bloom can occur, and whether a potential bloom is only locally supported or system-wide in scale. This conceptual framework provides a tool for exploring the inherent light climate attributes of shallow estuarine ecosystems and helps determine susceptibility to the harmful effects of nutrient enrichment.

KEY WORDS: Estuaries · Coastal ecosystems · Light limitation · Turbidity · Phytoplankton · Numerical modeling · Coastal eutrophication · Nutrient enrichment

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