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Marine Ecology Progress Series

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MEPS 244:39-48 (2002)  -  doi:10.3354/meps244039

Maximal sustainable sinking velocity of phytoplankton

Jef Huisman1,*, Ben Sommeijer2

1Aquatic Microbiology, Institute for Biodiversity and Ecosystem Dynamics, University of Amsterdam, Nieuwe Achtergracht 127, 1018 WS Amsterdam, The Netherlands
2Center for Mathematics and Computer Science (CWI), PO Box 94079, 1090 GB Amsterdam, The Netherlands

ABSTRACT: Most phytoplankton species have a tendency to sink. Phytoplankton require light for photosynthesis, however. Therefore, phytoplankton species that sink too fast will not be able to sustain a viable population in the euphotic zone. This points to the existence of a maximal sustainable phytoplankton sinking velocity. Using a reaction-advection-diffusion model of phytoplankton growth in a stratified water column, we derive that this maximal sinking velocity is inversely proportional to the turbidity of the water column. In other words, clear waters can sustain species with high sinking rates, whereas turbid waters can sustain species with low sinking rates only. We show that this prediction is both qualitatively and quantitatively supported by empirical data. An intriguing implication is that export production of sinking phytoplankton might be sensitive to the turbidity of the water column.

KEY WORDS: Phytoplankton blooms · Export production · Photosynthesis · Light limitation · Turbulence · Critical depth

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