Annual cycles of phytoplankton chlorophyll concentrations in the global ocean: A satellite view


  • James A. Yoder,

  • Charles R. McClain,

  • Gene C. Feldman,

  • Wayne E. Esaias


Conceptual and mathematical models show that annual cycles of phytoplankton biomass are different within different regions of the ocean. The purpose of this manuscript is to use coastal zone color scanner chlorophyll imagery (CZCS-Ch1) to determine annual cycles in phytoplankton chlorophyll (biomass) averaged over very large areas of the global ocean. A possible result is that large-scale averaging of CZCS-Ch1 will yield no interpretable signals because of spatial variability in annual cycles at scales much smaller than our averaging scale. Alternatively, if our analyses show regular and persistent global patterns, then our results will jprovide a basin-scale overview of phytoplankton biomass seasonally for comparison with model results or with other large-scale oceanographic measurements. Our results show that monthly mean CZCS-Ch1 imagery (and using in situ concentrations for winter at latitudes poleward of 40 deg) resolves important differences in annual phytoplankton chlorophyll cycles for different ocean basins and latitude belts. As predicted by simple models of plankton dynamics, our results show: (1) global subtropical waters have circa 2X higher CZCS-Ch1 concentrations in winter than in summer and (2) subpolar waters in the northern hemisphere (NH) have mean monthly CZCS-Ch1 concentrations during May and June that are manyfold higher than in winter, particularly in the North Atlantic. Our results also show: (1) Northern Indian Ocean is the major subtropical anomaly, (2) subpolar waters in the SH do not show differences between spring maxima and winter minima as large as those in the subpolar NH and (3) larger ocean area in the SH is compensated by higher mean annual CZCS-Ch1 concentrations in the NH, so that annual hemispherical integrals (mean annual concentrations multiplied by ocean areas) are very similar. The simple patterns we report imply that mean annual cycles in phytoplankton biomass averaged over very large areas of the global ocean are largely explainable by very simple mathematical models such as those presented several decades ago by Cushing, Riley, Steele, and others.