High resolution analysis of plankton distributions at the middle atlantic bight shelf-break front

TitleHigh resolution analysis of plankton distributions at the middle atlantic bight shelf-break front
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2023
AuthorsHirzel, AJ, Alatalo, P, Oliver, H, Petitpas, CM, Turner, JT, Zhang, W(Gordon), McGillicuddy, DJ
JournalContinental Shelf Research
KeywordsChlorophyll, Eddies, Fronts, Plankton, Shelf-break, Video plankton recorder

The Middle Atlantic Bight (MAB) is a highly productive ecosystem, supporting several economically important commercial fisheries. Chlorophyll enhancement at the MAB shelf-break front has been observed only intermittently, despite several studies suggesting persistent upwelling at the front. High resolution cross-frontal transects were conducted during three two-week cruises in April 2018, May 2019, and July 2019. Mesoplankton distributions at the front were measured with a Video Plankton Recorder equipped with hydrographic and bio-optical sensors. Zooplankton were also sampled with a Multiple Opening/Closing Net and Environment Sensing System. Each of the three cruises had distinctly different frontal characteristics, with lower variability in frontal position in April 2018 and higher variability in May and July 2019, primarily due to frontal eddies and a Gulf Stream warm core ring, respectively. Eulerian means of all transect crossings within each cruise did not show mean frontal chlorophyll enhancement in April 2018 or July 2019, despite individual crossings showing chlorophyll enhancement in April 2018. Transformation of the April 2018 data into a cross-frontal coordinate system revealed a weak enhancement of chlorophyll and copepods at the front. Mean frontal chlorophyll enhancement was observed in May and was associated with enhancement in the periphery of a frontal eddy rather than the front itself. None of the planktonic categories observed were enhanced at the front in the cross-shelf mean distribution, though diatom chains and copepods were more abundant inshore of the front, particularly in May and July 2019, as well as within the center of a frontal eddy in May. The high variability of the MAB frontal region obscured the impact of ephemeral frontal enhancement in mean observations of April 2018, while frontal eddies contributed to chlorophyll enhancement in mean observations of May 2019. The influence of both argues for the necessity for 3-D models rather than idealized 2-D models to explain frontal behavior and its effects on biological responses.