Modelling the impact of phytoplankton cell size and abundance on inherent optical properties (IOPs) and a remotely sensed chlorophyll-a product

Elsevier BV
Publication Type:
Journal Article
Journal of Marine Systems, 2021, 213, pp. 103460-103460
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© 2020 Elsevier B.V. Ocean colour data are commonly used to quantify primary production, study phytoplankton dynamics and calibrate marine models, thus understanding the origin of errors in the retrieved chlorophyll-a (Chl-a) product is critical. One source of uncertainty in retrieved Chl-a products can be related to large photosynthetic cells, characterised by lower mass-specific absorption coefficients due to increased packaging effect. Here, we explore the relationship between phytoplankton size structure and an ocean colour product using optical simulations and in situ observations. Specifically, we use an optical model to explore how phytoplankton cell size and abundance influence phytoplankton absorption and backscattering coefficients and the implication this has for water leaving radiance and the estimated Chl-a derived from satellite ocean colour. The optical model simulations show phytoplankton cell size has a significant impact on the remote-sensing reflectance, with Chl-a packaged in 5 to 10 μm cells resulting in about 54 to 76% the simulated ocean colour Chl-a compared to 1 μm cells, as determined by an algorithm that converts reflectances to Chl-a. To support optical simulations, size-fractionated Chl-a samples were collected from several water masses to investigate the phytoplankton size contribution (i.e., < 2 μm, 2–10 μm and > 10 μm) to the total Chl-a. We focused on the offshore eastern Australian ocean region, largely characterised by oligotrophic waters in which phytoplankton dominate the optical properties of the water column. Of the 22 stations sampled, a total of ten in situ size fractionated Chl-a measurements were matched-up with the corresponding clear-sky satellite Chl-a product. The matched-up points revealed a systematic underestimation of in situ Chl-a. With the low amount of data, it was not possible to statistically relate the satellite underestimation to a specific phytoplankton size class, but the observations showed that the largest satellite Chl-a underestimates were found when phytoplankton larger than 10 μm represented more than 50% of the phytoplankton community. Additional measurements that combine in situ optical measurements with phytoplankton size distribution and carbon/Chl-a ratio would help to clarify the relationship between phytoplankton size structures and remotely sensed Chl-a product.
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