Modeling seasonal variations of subsurface chlorophyll maximum in South China Sea

Research paper by Xiang Gong, Jie Shi, Huiwang Gao

Indexed on: 09 Jul '14Published on: 09 Jul '14Published in: Journal of Ocean University of China


In the South China Sea (SCS), the subsurface chlorophyll maximum (SCM) is frequently observed while the mechanisms of SCM occurrence have not been well understood. In this study, a 1-D physical-biochemical coupled model was used to study the seasonal variations of vertical profiles of chlorophyll-a (Chl-a) in the SCS. Three parameters (i.e., SCM layer (SCML) depth, thickness, and intensity) were defined to characterize the vertical distribution of Chl-a in SCML and were obtained by fitting the vertical profile of Chl-a in the subsurface layer using a Gaussian function. The seasonal variations of SCMs are reproduced reasonably well compared to the observations. The annual averages of SCML depth, thickness, and intensity are 75 ± 10 m, 31 ± 6.7 m, and 0.37 ± 0.11 mg m−3, respectively. A thick, close to surface SCML together with a higher intensity occurs during the northeastern monsoon. Both the SCML thickness and intensity are sensitive to the changes of surface wind speed in winter and summer, but the surface wind speed exerts a minor influence on the SCML depth; for example, double strengthening of the southwestern monsoon in summer can lead to the thickening of SCML by 46%, the intensity decreasing by 30%, and the shoaling by 6%. This is because part of nutrients are pumped from the upper nutricline to the surface mixed layer by strong vertical mixing. Increasing initial nutrient concentrations by two times will increase the intensity of SCML by over 80% in winter and spring. The sensitivity analysis indicates that light attenuation is critical to the three parameters of SCM. Decreasing background light attenuation by 20% extends the euphotic zone, makes SCML deeper (∼20%) and thicker (12%–41%), and increases the intensity by over 16%. Overall, the depth of SCML is mainly controlled by light attenuation, and the SCML thickness and intensity are closely associated with wind and initial nitrate concentration in the SCS.