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Monitoring of ocean surface algal blooms in coastal and oceanic waters around India


The National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s (NASA) sensor MODIS-Aqua provides an important tool for reliable observations of the changing ocean surface algal bloom paradigms in coastal and oceanic waters around India. A time series of the MODIS-Aqua-derived OSABI (ocean surface algal bloom index) and its seasonal composite images report new information and comprehensive pictures of these blooms and their evolution stages in a wide variety of events occurred at different times of the years from 2003 to 2011, providing the first large area survey of such phenomena around India. For most of the years, the results show a strong seasonal pattern of surface algal blooms elucidated by certain physical and meteorological conditions. The extent of these blooms reaches a maximum in winter (November–February) and a minimum in summer (June–September), especially in the northern Arabian Sea. Their spatial distribution and retention period are also significantly increased in the recent years. The increased spatial distribution and intensity of these blooms in the northern Arabian Sea in winter are likely caused by enhanced cooling, increased convective mixing, favorable winds, and atmospheric deposition of the mineral aerosols (from surrounding deserts) of the post-southwest monsoon period. The southward Oman coastal current and southwestward winds become apparently responsible for their extension up to the central Arabian Sea. Strong upwelling along this coast further triggers their initiation and growth. Though there is a warming condition associated with increased sea surface height anomalies along the coasts of India and Sri Lanka in winter, surface algal bloom patches are still persistent along these coasts due to northeast monsoonal winds, enhanced precipitation, and subsequent nutrient enrichment in these areas. The occurrence of the surface algal blooms in the northern Bay of Bengal coincides with a region of the well-known Ganges–Brahmaputra Estuarine Frontal (GBEF) system, which increases supply of nutrients in addition to the land-derived inputs triggering surface algal blooms in this region. Low density (initiation stage) of such blooms observed in clear oceanic waters southeast and northeast of Sri Lanka may be caused by the vertical mixing processes (strong monsoonal winds) and the occurrence of Indian Ocean Dipole events. Findings based on the analyses of time series satellite data indicate that the new information on surface algal blooms will have important bearing on regional fisheries, ecosystem and environmental studies, and implications of climate change scenarios.

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This work was supported by the Indian National Center for Ocean Information Services under grant # OEC/13-14/117/INCO/PSHA of the SATCORE program. We gratefully acknowledge the NASA Ocean Biology Processing Group for making available the LAC MODIS-Aqua data to this study. We also gratefully acknowledge the National Climatic Data Center of NOAA for wind data and the AVISO for sea surface height data. We are thankful to the anonymous reviewers for their constructive comments.

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Correspondence to Palanisamy Shanmugam.

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Tholkapiyan, M., Shanmugam, P. & Suresh, T. Monitoring of ocean surface algal blooms in coastal and oceanic waters around India. Environ Monit Assess 186, 4129–4137 (2014).

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  • Climate change
  • Hydrographic change
  • Nutrients
  • Surface algal blooms
  • Remote sensing
  • MODIS-Aqua