Characterization of the biological, physical, and chemical properties of a toxic thin layer in a temperate marine system

Marine Ecology Progress Series (MEPS)
By: , and 



The distribution of plankton in the ocean is patchy across a wide range of spatial and temporal scales. One type of oceanographic feature that exemplifies this patchiness is a ‘thin layer’. Thin layers are subsurface aggregations of plankton that range in vertical thickness from centimeters to a few meters, which may extend horizontally for kilometers and persist for days. We undertook a field campaign to characterize the biological, physical, and chemical properties of thin layers in Monterey Bay, California (USA), an area where these features can be persistent. The particle aggregates (marine snow) sampled in the study had several quantifiable properties indicating how the layer was formed and how its structure was maintained. Particles were more elongated above the layer, and then changed orientation angle and increased in size within the layer, suggesting passive accumulation of particles along a physical gradient. The shift in particle aggregate orientation angle near the pycnocline suggests that shear may also have played a role in generating the thin layer. Pseudo-nitzschia spp. were the most abundant phytoplankton within the thin layer. Further, both dissolved and particulate domoic acid were highest within the thin layer. We suggest that phosphate stress is responsible for the formation of Pseudo-nitzschia spp. aggregates. This stress together with increased nitrogen in the layer may lead to increased bloom toxicity in the subsurface blooms of Pseudo-nitzschia spp. Several zooplankton groups were observed to aggregate above and below the layer. With the knowledge that harmful algal bloom events can occur in subsurface thin layers, modified sampling methods to monitor for these hidden incubators could greatly improve the efficacy of early-warning systems designed to detect harmful algal blooms in coastal waters.

Publication type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Title Characterization of the biological, physical, and chemical properties of a toxic thin layer in a temperate marine system
Series title Marine Ecology Progress Series (MEPS)
DOI 10.3354/meps13879
Volume 678
Year Published 2021
Language English
Publisher Inter-Research
Contributing office(s) Pacific Coastal and Marine Science Center
Description 19 p.
First page 17
Last page 35
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