A curious phenomenon found in phytoplankton communities is the forming of so-called thin layers, wherein phytoplankton biomass can stretch out kilometres in the horizontal but only a few metres in the vertical. These layers are typically found at the pycnocline, just below the surface mixed layer. Thin layers are usually attributed to a range of complex environmental and species-dependent factors. However, we believe that, given the frequency at which this phenomenon is observed, a simpler mechanism is at play. In this study, we found that phytoplankton thin layers can be attributed simply to a decreasing light availability with depth, when there is an abundance of nutrients in the euphotic zone and below the mixed layer. This mechanism was ascertained using a number of modelling approaches ranging in complexity from analytical solutions of a simple 1-dimensional plankton model to a 3-dimensional biophysical model incorporating large-eddy simulation. The conditions which, according to the results of our study, allow thin layers to form are ubiquitous in the coastal ocean and are therefore a likely candidate explanation as to why planktonic thin layers are so frequently observed.
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All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
- Aquatic Science