Interannual variability in phytoplankton blooms observed in the northwestern Arabian Sea during the southwest monsoon


  • John C. Brock,

  • Charles R. McClain


Interannual changes in the strength and seasonal evolution of the 1979 through 1982 surface level southwest monsoon winds have been related to variations in the summer phytoplankton bloom of the northwestern Arabian Sea by synthesis of satellite ocean color remote sensing with analysis of in situ hydrographic and meteorological data sets. The 1979–1981 southwest monsoon phytoplankton blooms in the northwest Arabian Sea peaked during August-September, extended from the Omani coast to about 65°E, and appeared to lag the development of open-sea upwelling by at least 1 month. In all 3 years the bloom was driven by spatially distinct upward nutrient fluxes to the euphotic zone forced by the physical processes of coastal upwelling and offshore Ekman pumping. Coastal upwelling was evident from May through September, yielded the most extreme concentrations of phytoplankton biomass, and along the Omani coast was limited in its impact on upper ocean biological variability to the continental shelf. Ekman pumping stimulated the development of a broad open-ocean component of the southwest monsoon phytoplankton bloom oceanward of the Omani shelf. Phytoplankton biomass on the Omani continental shelf was increased during both the early and late phases of the 1980 southwest monsoon due to stronger coastal upwelling under the most intense southwesterly winds of the four summers investigated. Diminished coastal upwelling during the early phase of the weak 1982 southwest monsoon resulted in a coastal bloom that reached a mean phytoplankton pigment concentration that was 28% of that seen in 1980. The lack of a strong regional northwestern Arabian Sea bloom in late summer 1982 is attributed to the development of persistent, shallow temperature stratification that rendered Ekman pumping less effective in driving upward nutrient fluxes.