High-resolution underway measurements of phytoplankton photosynthesis and abundance as an innovative addition to water quality monitoring programs
Marine waters can be highly heterogeneous both on a spatial and temporal scale, yet monitoring programs currently rely primarily on low-resolution methods. This potentially leads to undersampling. This study explores the potential of two high-resolution methods for monitoring phytoplankton dynamics: fast repetition rate fluorometry for information on phytoplankton photosynthesis and productivity and automated scanning flow cytometry for information on phytoplankton abundance and community composition. These methods were tested in combination with an underway Ferrybox system during four cruises on the Dutch North Sea in April, May, June, and August 2017. The high-resolution methods were able to visualize both the spatial and temporal variability of the phytoplankton community in the Dutch North Sea. Spectral cluster analysis was applied to objectively interpret the multitude of parameters and visualize potential spatial patterns. This resulted in the identification of biogeographic regions with distinct phytoplankton communities, which varied per cruise. Our results clearly show that the sampling based on fixed stations does not give a good representation of the spatial patterns, showing the added value of underway high-resolution measurements. To fully exploit the potential of the tested high-resolution measurement setup, methodological constraints need further research. Among these constraints are accounting for the diurnal cycle in photophysiological parameters concurrent to the spatial variation, better predictions of the electron requirement for carbon fixation to estimate gross primary productivity, and the identification of more flow cytometer clusters with informative value. Nevertheless, the richness of additional information provided by high-resolution methods can improve existing low-resolution monitoring programs towards a more precise and ecosystemic ecological assessment of the phytoplankton community and productivity.