Burger
Journalpaper

A 1D physical–biological model of the impact of highly intermittent phytoplankton distributions

Abstract

Highly intermittent spatial variability of phytoplankton is observed ubiquitously in marine ecosystems, especially when measurements are performed at the micro-scale level. Therefore, theoretical developments and new modelling tools are required to understand the observed small-scale vertical structure and its relationship to ecosystem behaviour. Nearly all current ecosystem models are formulated entirely based on the mean field approximation, ignoring sub-grid scale variability. Even if such approximation may be reasonable for meso-scales (and above), it cannot account for micro-scale dynamics, which may also impact macroscopic properties at the larger scale. To consider intermittency of variables in plankton ecosystem models, we apply a newly developed modelling approach called the closure approach. Detailed simulations were conducted, combining fluid-dynamics of the 1D water column with the nutrient-phytoplankton closure ecosystem model for application to a site in the northern North Sea. Compared with a control model, which does not account for such intermittency, the closure model produced substantially different spatio-temporal patterns of mean phytoplankton biomass and growth rate, which depended on the overall level of variability. In this study, we (i) seek to explore the effects of sub-scale variability coupled with physical transport and (ii) begin to address the yet unresolved question of how to consistently model the advection and diffusion of the variances and co-variances used to represent sub-scale variability in the closure approach. Our results suggest that it may be necessary to account explicitly for the intermittent distribution of plankton and nutrients, even in large-scale biogeochemical models.
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