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Keywords:

  • ocean color;
  • phenology;
  • phytoplankton;
  • regime shifts

[1] We investigated the phenology of oceanic phytoplankton at large scales over two 5-year time periods: 1979–1983 and 1998–2002. Two ocean-color satellite data archives (Coastal Zone Color Scanner (CZCS) and Sea-viewing Wide Field-of-view Sensor (SeaWiFS)) were used to investigate changes in seasonal patterns of concentration-normalized chlorophyll. The geographic coverage was constrained by the CZCS data distribution. It was best for the Northern Hemisphere and also encompassed large areas of the Indian, South Pacific, and Equatorial Atlantic regions. For each 2° pixel, monthly climatologies were developed for satellite-derived chlorophyll, and the resulting seasonal cycles were statistically grouped using cluster analysis. Five distinct groups of mean seasonal cycles were identified for each half-decade period. Four types were common to both time periods and correspond to previously identified phytoplankton regimes: Bloom, Tropical, Subtropical North, and Subtropical South. Two other mean seasonal cycles, one in each of the two compared 5-year periods, were related to transitional or intermediate states (Transitional Tropical and Transitional Bloom). Five mean seasonal cycles (Bloom, Tropical, Subtropical North, and Subtropical South, Transitional Bloom) were further confirmed when the whole SeaWiFS data set (1998–2010) was analyzed. For ∼35% of the pixels analyzed, characteristic seasonal cycles of the 1979–1983 years differed little from those of the 1998–2002 period. For ∼65% of the pixels, however, phytoplankton seasonality patterns changed markedly, especially in the Northern Hemisphere. Subtropical regions of the North Pacific and Atlantic experienced a widespread expansion of the Transitional Bloom regime, which appeared further enhanced in the climatology based on the full SeaWiFS record (1998–2010), and, as showed by a more detailed analysis, is associated to La Niña years. This spatial pattern of Transitional Bloom regime reflects a general smoothing of seasonality at macroscale, coming into an apparent greater temporal synchrony of the Northern Hemisphere. The Transitional Bloom regime is also the result of a higher variability, both in space and time. The observed change in phytoplankton dynamics may be related not only to biological interactions but also to large-scale changes in the coupled atmosphere–ocean system. Some connections are indeed found with climate indices. Changes were observed among years belonging to opposite phases of ENSO, though discernible from the change among the two periods and within the SeaWiFS era (1998–2010). These linkages are considered preliminary at present and are worthy of further investigation.