First autonomous bio-optical profiling float in the Gulf of Mexico reveals dynamic biogeochemistry in deep waters.

Research paper by Rebecca E RE Green, Amy S AS Bower, Alexis A Lugo-Fernández

Indexed on: 06 Jul '14Published on: 06 Jul '14Published in: PloS one


Profiling floats equipped with bio-optical sensors well complement ship-based and satellite ocean color measurements by providing highly-resolved time-series data on the vertical structure of biogeochemical processes in oceanic waters. This is the first study to employ an autonomous profiling (APEX) float in the Gulf of Mexico for measuring spatiotemporal variability in bio-optics and hydrography. During the 17-month deployment (July 2011 to December 2012), the float mission collected profiles of temperature, salinity, chlorophyll fluorescence, particulate backscattering (bbp), and colored dissolved organic matter (CDOM) fluorescence from the ocean surface to a depth of 1,500 m. Biogeochemical variability was characterized by distinct depth trends and local "hot spots", including impacts from mesoscale processes associated with each of the water masses sampled, from ambient deep waters over the Florida Plain, into the Loop Current, up the Florida Canyon, and eventually into the Florida Straits. A deep chlorophyll maximum (DCM) occurred between 30 and 120 m, with the DCM depth significantly related to the unique density layer ρ = 1023.6 (R2 = 0.62). Particulate backscattering, bbp, demonstrated multiple peaks throughout the water column, including from phytoplankton, deep scattering layers, and resuspension. The bio-optical relationship developed between bbp and chlorophyll (R2 = 0.49) was compared to a global relationship and could significantly improve regional ocean-color algorithms. Photooxidation and autochthonous production contributed to CDOM distributions in the upper water column, whereas in deep water, CDOM behaved as a semi-conservative tracer of water masses, demonstrating a tight relationship with density (R2 = 0.87). In the wake of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, this research lends support to the use of autonomous drifting profilers as a powerful tool for consideration in the design of an expanded and integrated observing network for the Gulf of Mexico.