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Seasonality of North Atlantic phytoplankton from space: impact of environmental forcing on a changing phenology (1998–2012)


  • Fernando González Taboada,

    Corresponding author
    1. Área de Ecología, Dpto. Biología de Organismos y Sistemas, Universidad de Oviedo, Oviedo, Asturias, Spain
    • Correspondence: Fernando González Taboada, tel. +34 985 10 4815, fax +34 985 10 4777, e-mail:

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  • Ricardo Anadón

    1. Área de Ecología, Dpto. Biología de Organismos y Sistemas, Universidad de Oviedo, Oviedo, Asturias, Spain
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Seasonal pulses of phytoplankton drive seasonal cycles of carbon fixation and particle sedimentation, and might condition recruitment success in many exploited species. Taking advantage of long-term series of remotely sensed chlorophyll a (1998–2012), we analyzed changes in phytoplankton seasonality in the North Atlantic Ocean. Phytoplankton phenology was analyzed based on a probabilistic characterization of bloom incidence. This approach allowed us to detect changes in the prevalence of different seasonal cycles and, at the same time, to estimate bloom timing and magnitude taking into account uncertainty in bloom detection. Deviations between different sensors stressed the importance of a prolonged overlap between successive missions to ensure a correct assessment of phenological changes, as well as the advantage of semi-analytical chlorophyll algorithms over empirical ones to reduce biases. Earlier and more intense blooms were detected in the subpolar Atlantic, while advanced blooms of less magnitude were common in the Subtropical gyre. In the temperate North Atlantic, spring blooms advanced their timing and decreased in magnitude, whereas fall blooms delayed and increased their intensity. At the same time, the prevalence of locations with a single autumn/winter bloom or with a bimodal seasonal cycle increased, in consonance with a poleward expansion of subtropical conditions. Changes in bloom timing and magnitude presented a clear signature of environmental factors, especially wind forcing, although changes on incident photosynthetically active radiation and sea surface temperature were also important depending on latitude. Trends in bloom magnitude matched changes in mean chlorophyll a during the study period, suggesting that seasonal peaks drive long-term trends in chlorophyll a concentration. Our results link changes in North Atlantic climate with recent trends in the phenology of phytoplankton, suggesting an intensification of these impacts in the near future.

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