The Impact of Submesoscale Physics on Primary Productivity of Plankton. uri icon


  • Life in the ocean relies on the photosynthetic production of phytoplankton, which is influenced by the availability of light and nutrients that are modulated by a host of physical processes. Submesoscale processes are particularly relevant to phytoplankton productivity because the timescales on which they act are similar to those of phytoplankton growth. Their dynamics are associated with strong vorticity and strain rates that occur on lateral scales of 0.1-10 km. They can support vertical velocities as large as 100 m d(-1) and play a crucial role in transporting nutrients into the sunlit ocean for phytoplankton production. In regimes with deep surface mixed layers, submesoscale instabilities can cause stratification within days, thereby increasing light exposure for phytoplankton trapped close to the surface. These instabilities help to create and maintain localized environments that favor the growth of phytoplankton, contribute to productivity, and cause enormous heterogeneity in the abundance of phytoplankton, which has implications for interactions within the ecosystem.

publication date

  • 2016