Observations of a phytoplankton spring bloom onset triggered by a density front in NW Mediterranean
Abstract. Phytoplankton blooms in the northwestern Mediterranean Sea are seasonal events that mainly occur in a specific area comprising the Gulf of Lion and the Provençal basin, where they are promoted by a general cyclonic circulation, strong wind-driven mixing and subsequent re-stratification of the water column. At the southern boundary of this area, a persistent density front known as the north Balearic front can be found. The front is presumed to cause an early phytoplankton bloom in its vicinity because (a) it enhances the transport of nutrients into the euphotic layer and (b) it promotes the speedy re-stratification of the water column (through frontal instabilities). In February and March 2013, a glider, equipped with a CTD (conductivity, temperature, and depth device) and a fluorometer, was deployed on a mission that took it from the Balearic Islands to Sardinia and back. The frontal zone was crossed twice, once during the outbound leg and the once on the return leg. The data provided by the glider clearly showed the onset of a bloom soon after a decrease in wind-driven turbulent convection and mixing. The in situ observations were supported and confirmed by satellite imagery. It is shown that frontal dynamics play a key role in the promotion and acceleration of re-stratification, which is a necessary pre-conditioning factor for the onset of blooms much like other relevant processes such as an enhanced biological pump. Swift re-stratification stimulates new production by inhibiting mixing. Finally, viewing the blooming phenomenon from a regional perspective, it seems that Sverdrup's critical depth model applies in the northern well-mixed area whereas, in the south, front-related re-stratification seems to be the principal cause.
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