Is biological productivity enhanced at the New England shelfbreak front?

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Abstract

[1] A two-dimensional (cross-shelf) numerical model of the mean seasonal circulation offshore of southern New England predicts upwelling at the shelfbreak front. Expected ramifications of this upwelling include enhancement of nutrient supply, phytoplankton biomass, and productivity. However, seasonal climatologies of chlorophyll based on both in situ data and satellite observations show no mean enhancement at the front. We investigate this apparent discrepancy with a four-component planktonic ecosystem model coupled to the two-dimensional physical model. Nutrient fields are restored to climatological values at depth, and upper ocean values evolve freely according to physical and biological forcing. Vertical diffusivity is based on seasonally averaged surface and bottom mixed layer depths compiled from in situ observations. The model reproduces the general pattern of the observed cross-shelf and seasonal variations of the chlorophyll distribution. It predicts a local enhancement of phytoplankton productivity at the shelfbreak in spring and summer as a result of the persistently upwelled nutrient-rich slope water. In the model, zooplankton grazing prevents accumulation of phytoplankton biomass at the site of the upwelling. The predicted enhancement of primary productivity (but not phytoplankton biomass) at the shelfbreak constitutes a hypothesis that could be tested in the future with suitable measurements from regional long-term observatories, such as the Ocean Observatories Initiative Pioneer Array.

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