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Proceedings Paper

Influence of solar radiation absorbed by phytoplankton on the thermal structure and circulation of the tropical Atlantic Ocean
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Paper Abstract

Numerical experiments conducted with an ocean general ocean circulation model reveal the potential influence of solar radiation absorbed by phytoplankton on the thermal structure and currents of the Tropical Atlantic Ocean. In the model, solar radiation penetration is parameterized explicitly as a function of chlorophyll-a concentration, the major variable affecting water turbidity in the open ocean. Two types of runs are performed, a clear water (control) run with a constant minimum chlorophyll-a concentration of 0.02 mgm-3, and a turbid water (chlorophyll) run with space- and time-varying chlorophyll-a concentration from satellite data. The difference between results from the two runs yields the biological effects. In the chlorophyll run, nutrients and biology production are implicitly taken into account, even though biogeochemical processes are not explicitly included, since phytoplankton distribution, prescribed from observations, is the result of those processes. Due to phytoplankton-radiation forcing, the surface temperature is higher by 1-2 K on average annually in the region of the North Equatorial current, the Northern part of the South Equatorial current, and the Caribbean system, and by 3-4 K in the region of the Guinea current. In this region, upwelling is reduced, and heat trapped in the surface layers by phytoplankton is not easily removed. The surface temperature is lower by 1 K in the Northern region of the Benguela current, due to increased upwelling. At depth, the equatorial Atlantic is generally cooler, as well as the eastern part of the tropical basin (excluding the region of the sub-tropical gyres). The North and South equatorial currents, as well as the Equatorial undercurrent, are enhanced by as much as 3-4 cms-1, and the circulation of the subtropical gyres is increased. Pole-ward heat transport is slightly reduced North of 35°N, suggesting that phytoplankton, by increasing the horizontal return flow in the subtropical region, may exert a cooling influence on higher latitude regions. The findings indicate that biology-induced buoyancy plays a significant role, in an indirect if not direct way, in the variability of the Tropical Atlantic Ocean, with consequences on atmospheric circulation and climate.

Paper Details

Date Published: 5 October 2007
PDF: 12 pages
Proc. SPIE 6680, Coastal Ocean Remote Sensing, 668015 (5 October 2007); doi: 10.1117/12.738969
Show Author Affiliations
Robert Frouin, Scripps Institution of Oceanography (United States)
Kyozo Ueyoshi, Scripps Institution of Oceanography (United States)
Milton Kampel, Instituto Nacional de Pesquisas Espaciais (Brazil)

Published in SPIE Proceedings Vol. 6680:
Coastal Ocean Remote Sensing
Robert J. Frouin; ZhongPing Lee, Editor(s)

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