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Open sea hydrographic forcing of nutrient and phytoplankton dynamics in a Mediterranean coastal ecosystem

August 30, 2013

The dynamics of inorganic nutrients and phytoplankton was studied along two transects located in the coastal area of Barcelona (NW Mediterranean), from March 2002 to March 2006. Similar seasonal variability patterns were observed in the four annual cycles and in general, the nutrient concentrations were highest in winter and lowest in summer. Two phytoplankton peaks, composed mainly by diatoms and nanoflagellates, were generally detected during the year with the main peak during March, linked to different fertilization mechanisms, and a secondary peak generally found in autumn, probably related both to the new availability of nutrients due to the disruption of the thermocline and to freshwater inputs. During the rest of the year, with a stratified water column and low nutrient concentrations, phytoplankton remained at a low abundance and comprised mainly very small dinoflagellates, although there was smaller scale variability conditioned by rainfall events and subsequent freshwater discharges. Despite the similarity of the seasonal patterns, there were interannual changes in origin of new nutrient inputs into the coastal zone and in the taxonomic composition of the winter-early spring phytoplankton maxima. The main source of nutrients for the winter-early spring maxima of 2003 and 2004 was river runoff, while fertilization events in the two following winters were mainly due to the intrusion, onto the Barcelona shelf, of intermediate waters in 2005, and of surface offshore waters, which also carried a different phytoplankton community, in 2006. These changes were linked to unusually cold and dry weather in the winters of 2005 and 2006, which resulted in strong vertical mixing and deep water formation events in the NW Mediterranean basin. The overall amount of nutrients provided to the coastal zone by offshore water fertilization was higher (2005) or equal (2006) than that provided by freshwater inputs in 2003 and 2004. Our findings highlight the importance of identifying the different sources of nutrients in understanding the dynamics of phytoplankton and for devising management strategies of the coastal environment.

Arin L, Guillén J, Segura-Noguera M, Estrada M, in press., Open sea hydrographic forcing of nutrient and phytoplankton dynamics in a Mediterranean coastal ecosystem, 2013, Estuarine, Coastal and Shelf Science, doi:10.1016/j.ecss.2013.08.018. Article.

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