In the first study to connect autumn storms with marine productivity, researchers from the National Oceanography Centre have found that the storms stir up nutrients from the deep ocean, spurring phytoplankton growth and enabling greater uptake of carbon dioxide, according to a release.
The mixing can increase the nutrients in the upper ocean by a factor of 10. In the days after a storm, scientists have measured a 50 percent increase in chlorophyll, suggesting a significant increase in phytoplankton growth. The growth promotes additional carbon dioxide uptake as the phytoplankton utilize it to metabolize.
Although phytoplankton tend to live near the surface, absorbing carbon dioxide and nutrients in the first 100 meters of ocean, they also can use up all the surface nutrients. Autumn storms cause deep ocean nutrients to be churned up to the surface, reigniting phytoplankton growth and carbon dioxide uptake.
Researchers had been curious about how nutrients were replenished in the upper ocean for years, but the phenomenon was difficult to study due to storms. The recent study made up for that by using robotic gliders, which aren’t as affected by difficult weather.