A process-oriented model study of equatorial Pacific phytoplankton: The role of iron supply and tropical instability waves
The response of phytoplankton growth to iron supply and its modulation by large-scale circulation and tropical instability waves (TIWs) in the eastern equatorial Pacific has been investigated with an ocean biogeochemical model. This process study shows that iron can be efficiently advected from the New Guinea shelf through the Equatorial Undercurrent (EUC) to the eastern Pacific. The presence of a continental iron source is necessary for the maintenance of the observed subsurface iron maximum in the EUC core. In the eastern Pacific region, phytoplankton production is enhanced when additional iron is available in the EUC. Simulated phytoplankton variability is linked to TIWs activity, as revealed by a wavelet analysis of the total autotrophic carbon. The net local effect of the waves on phytoplankton can be either positive or negative depending on several factors. When the iron nutricline is sufficiently shallow to be reached by the wave vertical scale, the effect of the waves is to enhance iron availability in the euphotic zone leading to a net local increase of phytoplankton biomass. We therefore suggest that the local maxima of phytoplankton observed in moorings off the Equator in the eastern Pacific might be not only the result of concentration mechanisms, but also the result of an increase in local production sustained by advected iron.