Across-shore variability in plankton layering and abundance associated with physical forcing in Monterey Bay, California

J. C. Sevadjian, M. A. McManus, J. Ryan, A. T. Greer, R. K. Cowen, C. B. Woodson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

7 Scopus citations


The purpose of this study was to further our understanding of the role of the coastal physical oceanographic environment as a dynamic and constantly evolving habitat for plankton. Over a 3-week period in the summer of 2010, an array of moorings were deployed and shipboard and autonomous underwater vehicle (AUV) surveys were conducted to investigate the association between physical processes and plankton distributions over the Monterey Bay, California inner shelf. Acoustic backscatter, chlorophyll-a fluorescence, and high-resolution zooplankton imagery data collected during the shipboard surveys were used to map the distributions of phytoplankton and zooplankton; and profiles of temperature, salinity, oxygen, and nitrate from the AUV characterized the physical and chemical environment. A synthesis of underway and moored time series data provided insight into the histories of water masses in the area, and facilitated tracking of internal wave groups as they propagated towards shore. A near-bottom intrusion of recently-upwelled water was found to be strongly influenced by the diurnal tide, resulting in daily across-shelf excursions past the mooring array at the 20-m isobath. Behind the leading edge of the intrusion, the water column was highly stratified in temperature, salinity, oxygen, and nitrate; and thin layers of phytoplankton and zooplankton persisted at the upper boundary of the intrusion. In ambient waters shoreward of the intrusion, stratification was weak; copepod, appendicularian, and gelatinous zooplankton abundances were relatively low; and phytoplankton and acoustic backscatter were broadly distributed throughout the lower half of the water column. The arrival of two shoreward-propagating internal wave groups observed during the shipboard survey corresponded with disparate responses in plankton distribution. In the wake of the first wave group, phytoplankton and zooplankton layers thinned or converged; in the wake of the second wave group, an eight-fold increase in gelatinous zooplankton was observed. These findings reveal a strong coupling between physical processes and the abundance and vertical distribution of plankton. It is necessary to understand the underlying physical environment in order to understand the complex distribution of organisms in the sea.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)138-151
Number of pages14
JournalContinental Shelf Research
StatePublished - Jan 1 2014


  • Acoustic backscatter
  • Bio-physical coupling
  • Phytoplankton
  • Zooplankton

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Aquatic Science
  • Geology
  • Oceanography


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