Currents mix up early North Atlantic phytoplankton growth

By on July 11, 2012

University of Washington researchers who recently ventured into the North Atlantic near Iceland found that swirling ocean eddies triggered an early phytoplankton bloom there by carrying the tiny plants up into the sunlit surface waters weeks before spring mixing could have moved them into place.

Researchers monitored water temperature, salinity, speed and chlorophyll content with self-propelled and free-floating robots designed by UW oceanographers, according to a release from the university. Chlorophyll was also monitored through satellite images.

Ocean current modeling by researchers at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution confirmed the bloom-enhancing effect of the eddies. Scientists think climate change could effect the currents that cause these eddies to form, which could have an impact timing of the bloom and the animals that feed on it. An article describing the discovery authored by Amala Mahadevan of WHOI, Eric D’Asaro and Craig Lee of UW, and Mary Jane Perry of the University of Maine, was published in the July 6 issue of Science.

Image source: NASA Earth Observatory

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