Evolution of a physical and biological front from upwelling to relaxation
Bellingham, James G.
Ryan, John P.
Godin, Michael A.
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Fronts influence the structure and function of coastal marine ecosystems. Due to the complexity and dynamic nature of coastal environments and the small scales of frontal gradient zones, frontal research is difficult. To advance this challenging research we developed a method enabling an autonomous underwater vehicle (AUV) to detect and track fronts, thereby providing high-resolution observations in the moving reference frame of the front itself. This novel method was applied to studying the evolution of a frontal zone in the coastal upwelling environment of Monterey Bay, California, through a period of variability in upwelling intensity. Through 23 frontal crossings in four days, the AUV detected the front using real-time analysis of vertical thermal stratification to identify water types and the front between them, and the vehicle tracked the front as it moved more than 10 km offshore. The physical front coincided with a biological front between strongly stratified phytoplankton-enriched water inshore of the front, and weakly stratified phytoplankton-poor water offshore of the front. While stratification remained a consistent identifier, conditions on both sides of the front changed rapidly as regional circulation responded to relaxation of upwelling winds. The offshore water type transitioned from relatively cold and saline upwelled water to relatively warm and fresh coastal transition zone water. The inshore water type exhibited an order of magnitude increase in chlorophyll concentrations and an associated increase in oxygen and decrease in nitrate. It also warmed and freshened near the front, consistent with the cross-frontal exchange that was detected in the high-resolution AUV data. AUV-observed cross-frontal exchanges beneath the surface manifestation of the front emphasize the importance of AUV synoptic water column surveys in the frontal zone.
© The Author(s), 2015. This article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License. The definitive version was published in Continental Shelf Research 108 (2015): 55-64, doi:10.1016/j.csr.2015.08.005.
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