Ocean Dynamics

, Volume 67, Issue 6, pp 767–782 | Cite as

Frontal dynamics boost primary production in the summer stratified Mediterranean sea

  • Antonio Olita
  • Arthur Capet
  • Mariona Claret
  • Amala Mahadevan
  • Pierre Marie Poulain
  • Alberto Ribotti
  • Simón Ruiz
  • Joaquín Tintoré
  • Antonio Tovar-Sánchez
  • Ananda Pascual
Part of the following topical collections:
  1. Topical Collection on the 48th International Liège Colloquium on Ocean Dynamics, Liège, Belgium, 23-27 May 2016


Bio-physical glider measurements from a unique process-oriented experiment in the Eastern Alboran Sea (AlborEx) allowed us to observe the distribution of the deep chlorophyll maximum (DCM) across an intense density front, with a resolution (∼ 400 m) suitable for investigating sub-mesoscale dynamics. This front, at the interface between Atlantic and Mediterranean waters, had a sharp density gradient (Δρ ∼ 1 kg/m3 in ∼ 10 km) and showed imprints of (sub-)mesoscale phenomena on tracer distributions. Specifically, the chlorophyll-a concentration within the DCM showed a disrupted pattern along isopycnal surfaces, with patches bearing a relationship to the stratification (buoyancy frequency) at depths between 30 and 60 m. In order to estimate the primary production (PP) rate within the chlorophyll patches observed at the sub-surface, we applied the Morel and Andrè (J Geophys Res 96:685–698 1991) bio-optical model using the photosynthetic active radiation (PAR) from Argo profiles collected simultaneously with glider data. The highest production was located concurrently with domed isopycnals on the fresh side of the front, suggestive that (sub-)mesoscale upwelling is carrying phytoplankton patches from less to more illuminated levels, with a contemporaneous delivering of nutrients. Integrated estimations of PP (1.3 g C m−2d−1) along the glider path are two to four times larger than the estimations obtained from satellite-based algorithms, i.e., derived from the 8-day composite fields extracted over the glider trip path. Despite the differences in spatial and temporal sampling between instruments, the differences in PP estimations are mainly due to the inability of the satellite to measure DCM patches responsible for the high production. The deepest (depth > 60 m) chlorophyll patches are almost unproductive and probably transported passively (subducted) from upper productive layers. Finally, the relationship between primary production and oxygen is also investigated. The logarithm of the primary production in the DCM interior (chlorophyll (Chl) > 0.5 mg/m3) shows a linear negative relationship with the apparent oxygen utilization, confirming that high chlorophyll patches are productive. The slope of this relationship is different for Atlantic, mixed interface waters and Mediterranean waters, suggesting the presence of differences in planktonic communities (whether physiological, population, or community level should be object of further investigation) on the different sides of the front. In addition, the ratio of optical backscatter to Chl is high within the intermediate (mixed) waters, which is suggestive of large phytoplankton cells, and lower within the core of the Atlantic and Mediterranean waters. These observations highlight the relevance of fronts in triggering primary production at DCM level and shaping the characteristic patchiness of the pelagic domain. This gains further relevance considering the inadequacy of optical satellite sensors to observe DCM concentrations at such fine scales.


Primary production Glider Mediterranean sea Fronts sub-mesoscale AOU 



This work has been partly funded by the Jerico-TNA program, under the project named FRIPP (FRontal Dynamics Influencing Primary Production), and by the Italian Flagship Project RITMARE. AlborEx experiment was financed by the Perseus project and funded by the EU under FP7 Theme “Oceans of Tomorrow” OCEAN.2011-3 Grant Agreement No. 287600. Arthur Capet is a FNRS researcher under the FNRS BENTHOX project (Convention T.1009.15).

Authors would also like to thank Dr. Stefania Sparnocchia for her precious support as responsible for the JERICO-TNA program, Dr. Marc Toner Tomàs who has efficiently piloted the gliders, Dr. Charles Troupin for providing relevant technical information, Dr. Victoria Hemsley for her precious suggestions about PP algorithm, and Dr. David Roque by helping in bottle data processing.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  • Antonio Olita
    • 1
  • Arthur Capet
    • 2
  • Mariona Claret
    • 3
  • Amala Mahadevan
    • 4
  • Pierre Marie Poulain
    • 5
  • Alberto Ribotti
    • 1
  • Simón Ruiz
    • 6
  • Joaquín Tintoré
    • 6
    • 7
  • Antonio Tovar-Sánchez
    • 8
  • Ananda Pascual
    • 6
  1. 1.National Research CouncilInstitute for Coastal Marine Environment (IAMC-CNR)OristanoItaly
  2. 2.MASTUniversity of LiègeLiègeBelgium
  3. 3.Joint Institute for Study of the Atmosphere and OceanUniversity of WashingtonSeattleUSA
  4. 4.Woods Hole Oceanographic InstitutionWoods HoleUSA
  5. 5.OGSTriesteItaly
  6. 6.IMEDEA(CSIC-UIB)EsporlesSpain
  7. 7.SOCIBMallorcaSpain
  8. 8.ICMANPuerto RealSpain

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