Satellite views of the seasonal and interannual variability of phytoplankton blooms in the eastern China seas over the past 14 yr (1998–2011)
The eastern China seas are some of the largest marginal seas in the world, where high primary productivity and phytoplankton blooms are often observed. However, little is known about their systematic variation of phytoplankton blooms on large spatial and long temporal scales due to the difficulty of monitoring bloom events by field measurement. In this study, we investigated the seasonal and interannual variability and long-term changes in phytoplankton blooms in the eastern China seas using a 14 yr (1998–2011) time series of satellite ocean colour data. To ensure a proper satellite dataset to figure out the bloom events, we validated and corrected the satellite-derived chlorophyll concentration (chl a) using extensive in situ datasets from two large cruises. The correlation coefficients between the satellite retrieval data and the in situ chl a on the logarithmic scale were 0.85 and 0.72 for the SeaWiFS and Aqua/MODIS data, respectively. Although satellites generally overestimate the chl a, especially in highly turbid waters, both the in situ and satellite data show that the overestimation of satellite-derived chl a has an upper limit value (10 μg L −1), which can be used as a threshold for the identification of phytoplankton blooms to avoid the false blooms resulting from turbid waters. Taking 10 μg L −1 as the threshold, we present the spatial-temporal variability of phytoplankton blooms in the eastern China seas over the past 14 yr. Most blooms occur in the Changjiang Estuary and along the coasts of Zhejiang, with a maximal frequency of 20% (about 73 days per year). The coasts of the northern Yellow Sea and the Bohai Sea also have high-frequency blooms (up to 20%). The blooms show significant seasonal variation, with most occurring in spring (April–June) and summer (July–September). The study also revealed a doubling in bloom intensity in the Yellow Sea and Bohai Sea during the past 14 yr. The nutrient supply in the eastern China seas might be a major controlling factor in bloom variation. The time series in situ nutrient datasets show that both the nitrate and phosphate concentrations increased more than twofold between 1998 and 2005 in the Yellow Sea. This might be the reason for the doubling of the bloom intensity index in the Yellow Sea and Bohai Sea. In contrast, there has been no significant long-term increase or decrease in the Changjiang Estuary, which might be regulated by the Changjiang River discharge. These results offer a foundation for the study of the influence of phytoplankton blooms on the carbon flux estimation and biogeochemical processes in the eastern China seas.