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MEPS prepress abstract   -  DOI:

Phytoplankton transport out of the euphotic zone by frontal subduction and gravitational sinking in the Santa Barbara Channel, CA, USA

Libe Washburn*, Mark A. Brzezinski, Chris Gotschalk, Kyle Mylonakis, Carlos Garcia-Cervera, Li Kui

*Corresponding author:

ABSTRACT: Production of particulate organic carbon in nutrient-rich coastal waters over continental shelves, its export to depth, and its transport to deeper ocean waters is a poorly quantified component of the global carbon cycle. A critical step in quantifying this vertical transport is identifying shelf processes that export phytoplankton out of the euphotic zone. During cruises of the Santa Barbara Coastal Long Term Ecological Research project, we discovered substantial chlorophyll a below the euphotic zone in the Santa Barbara Channel (SBC), a part of the southern California Current System. Observations from towed, undulating vehicles revealed deep chlorophyll layers near fronts where upwelled waters from central California converged with lower density waters from the Southern California Bight. The mean fraction of chlorophyll biomass below the euphotic zone spanning the entire Santa Barbara Channel was ~7 ± 9% during 13 cruises averaged across all seasons. In one spring cruise the fraction was ~ 30% and in other cruises the layers were absent. Phytoplankton export out of the euphotic zone by subduction was indicated by spatial coherence between chlorophyll a and sloping density surfaces. Vertical plumes of chlorophyll a crossing density surfaces indicated enhanced gravitational export within cyclonic eddies. Chlorophyll a in water samples below the euphotic zone, away from fronts and cyclonic flows, suggested additional phytoplankton export. Our results emphasize the importance of subduction in the export of phytoplankton and POC out of the euphotic zone in coastal upwelling systems.