Meridional zonation of the Barents Sea ecosystem inferred from satellite remote sensing and in situ bio-optical observations

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Mitchell, B. Greg ; Brody, Eric A. ; Yeh, Eueng-Nan ; Mcclain, Charles ; Comiso, Josefino ; Maynard, Nancy G. (1991)

The Barents Sea is a productive, shallow, high-latitude marine ecosystem with complex hydrographic conditions. Zonal hydrographic bands defined by a coastal current. North Atlantic Water, the Polar Front, and the seasonally variable marginal ice edge zone create a meridional zonation of the ecosystem during the spring-summer transition. The features reveal themselves in satellite imagery and by high-resolution (vertical and horizontal) physical-optical-biological sampling. Surprisingly, the long-term (7-year) mean of Coastal Zone Color Scanner (CZCS) imagery reveals the Barents Sea as an anomalous “blue-water” regime at high latitudes that are otherwise dominated by satellite-observed surface blooms. A combination of satellite imagery and in situ bio-optical analyses indicate that this pattern is caused by strong stratification in summer with surface nutrient depletion. The onset of stratification of the entire region is linked to the extent of the winter ice edge: cold years with extensive sea ice apparently stratify early due to ice melt; warm years stratify later, perhaps due to weaker thermal stratification of the Atlantic waters (e.g. Skjoldal et al. 1987). The apparent “low chlorophyll” indicated by the CZCS 7-year mean is partly due to sampling error whereby the mean is dominated by images taken later in the summer. In fact, massive blooms of subsurface phytoplankton embedded in the pycnocline persist throughout the summer and maintain substantial rates of primary production. Further, these subsurface blooms that are not observed by satellite are responsible for dramatic gradients in the beam (c1) and spectral diffuse (k) attenuation coefficients. The Barents Sea exemplifies the need to couple satellite observations with spatially and temporally resolved biogeographic ecosystem models in order to estimate the integrated water column primary production, mass flux or spectral light attenuation coefficients.
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