• Open Access

Can Asian dust trigger phytoplankton blooms in the oligotrophic northern South China Sea?



[1] Satellite data estimate a high dust deposition flux (∼18 g m−2 a−1) into the northern South China Sea (SCS). However, observational evidence concerning any biological response to dust fertilization is sparse. In this study, we combined long-term aerosol and chlorophyll-a (Chl-a) measurements from satellite sensors (MODIS and SeaWiFS) with a 16-year record of dust events from surface PM10observations to investigate dust transport, flux, and the changes in Chl-a concentration over the northern SCS. Our result revealed that readily identifiable strong dust events over this region, although relatively rare (6 cases since 1994) and accounting for only a small proportion of the total dust deposition (∼0.28 g m−2 a−1), do occur and could significantly enhance phytoplankton blooms. Following such events, the Chl-a concentration increased up to 4-fold, and generally doubled the springtime background value (0.15 mg m−3). We suggest these heavy dust events contain readily bioavailable iron and enhance the phytoplankton growth in the oligotrophic northern SCS.