A limited effect of sub-tropical typhoons on phytoplankton dynamics

Chai, Fei; Wang, Yuntao; Xing, Xiaogang; Yan, Yunwei; Xue, Huijie; Wells, Mark; Boss, Emmanuel

Typhoons are assumed to stimulate primary ocean production through the upward mixing of nutrients into the ocean surface. This assumption is based largely on observations of increased surface chlorophyll concentrations following the passage of typhoons. This surface chlorophyll enhancement, occasionally detected by satellites, is often undetected due to intense cloud coverage. Daily data from a BGC-Argo profiling float revealed the upper-ocean response to Typhoon Trami in the northwest Pacific Ocean. Temperature and chlorophyll changed rapidly, with a significant drop in sea surface temperature and a surge in surface chlorophyll associated with strong vertical mixing, which was only partially captured by satellite observations. However, no net increase in vertically integrated chlorophyll was observed during Typhoon Trami or in its wake. In contrast to the prevailing dogma, the result shows that typhoons likely have a limited effect on net primary ocean production. Observed surface chlorophyll enhancements during and immediately following typhoons in tropical and subtropical waters are more likely to be associated with surface entrainment of deep chlorophyll maxima. Moreover, the findings demonstrate that remote sensing data alone can overestimate the impact of storms on primary production in all oceans. Full understanding of the impact of storms on upper-ocean productivity can only be achieved with ocean-observing robots dedicated to high-resolution temporal sampling in the path of storms.

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Chai, Fei / Wang, Yuntao / Xing, Xiaogang / et al: A limited effect of sub-tropical typhoons on phytoplankton dynamics. 2021. Copernicus Publications.

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