Retrospective satellite ocean color analysis of purposeful and natural ocean iron fertilization Academic Article uri icon


  • Significant effort has been invested in understanding the role of iron in marine ecosystems over the past few decades. What began as shipboard amendment experiments quickly grew into a succession of in situ, mesoscale ocean iron fertilization (OIF) experiments carried out in all three high nutrient low chlorophyll (HNLC) regions of the world ocean. Dedicated process studies have also looked at regions of the ocean that are seasonally exposed to iron-replete conditions as natural OIF experiments. However, one problem common to many OIF experiments is determination of biological response beyond the duration of the experiment (typically < 1 month). Satellite-derived products have been used to address this shortcoming with some success, but thus far, have been limited snapshots of a single parameter, chlorophyll. Here, we investigate phytoplankton responses to OIF in both purposeful and naturally iron enriched systems using estimates of chlorophyll (Chl), phytoplanIcton carbon biomass (C-phyto), their ratio (Chl:C-phyto) and two fluorescence indices, fluorescence per unit chlorophyll (FLH:Chl) and the chlorophyll fluorescence efficiency (phi(f)). These quantities allow partitioning of the biological response to OIF into that due to changes in biomass and that due to phytoplankton physiology. We find that relative increases in Chl (similar to 10-20x) following OIF far exceed increases in C-phyto < 4-5x), suggesting that a significant fraction of the observed Chl increase is associated with physiological adjustment to increased growth rates, photoacclimation, and floristic shifts in the phytoplankton community. Further, a consistent pattern of decreased satellite fluorescence efficiency (FLH:Chl or phi(f)) following OIF is observed that is in agreement with current understanding of phytoplankton physiological responses to relief from iron stress. The current study extends our ability to retrieve phytoplankton physiology from space-based sensors, strengthens the link between satellite fluorescence and iron availability, and shows that satellite ocean color analyses provide a unique tool for monitoring OIF experiments. (c) 2012 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.

publication date

  • March 2013