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Global Biogeochemical Cycles

Oceanic primary production: 1. Adaptation of a spectral light-photosynthesis model in view of application to satellite chlorophyll observations


  • David Antoine,

  • André Morel


A global equation, designed to estimate the column-integrated oceanic primary production realized by a given phytoplankton biomass under various environmental conditions, is used to develop a practical method to assess the primary production (P) from the chlorophyll concentration as provided by satellite imagery. This basic equation combines three terms, namely the photosynthetically available radiation impinging at the sea surface, PAR(0+), the column-integrated chlorophyll content, <Chl>tot, and the cross section for photosynthesis per unit of chlorophyll, Ψ*. Global monitoring of incident irradiance and near-surface algal biomass is now achievable from space, and thus the next step toward a monitoring of oceanic primary production would be to dispose in parallel of a “climatological field” of the Ψ* quantity. Actually, Ψ* depends on the two other terms of the equation (PAR(0+) and <Chl>tot,), and, in addition, on temperature (also detectable from satellite). Therefore such a “climatological field” is variable and complex and it can be conveniently replaced by lookup tables allowing easy interpolation. The entries are date, latitude, cloudiness, temperature, and remotely sensed chlorophyll concentration. This upper layer concentration is extended downward owing to previous results of a statistical analysis of the chlorophyll vertical distribution; accordingly, two parallel tables, corresponding to well-mixed or stratified upper layers with uniform or non uniform chlorophyll vertical profiles, respectively, are constructed. These tables are produced by systematically using a previously published spectral light-photosynthesis model. For such extensive computations, the model necessarily relies on, and is operated with, a standard set of ecological and physiological parameters. Therefore sensitivity analyses have been carried out in view of assessing the impact on Ψ*, and on the resulting production of deviations in these parameters or parameterizations, vis-a-vis the standard values or formulations which were adopted when building the tables. The effects of the biomass vertical structure, of possible light and temperature adaptation, and of the presence of degraded pigments are among the sensitivity studies which have been performed. The method as proposed can accomodate any improvement and complexity in parameterization to the extent that additional computation time is faced only when generating the lookup tables, not when using them in conjunction with satellite data.

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