Date Awarded


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Science (M.Sc.)


Virginia Institute of Marine Science


Relative to the rest of the Southern Ocean, the Ross Sea continental shelf experiences very high productivity and phytoplankton biomass, which supports an extensive food web including high concentrations of upper trophic level biomass. Conventional observational methods, including ship-based sampling, instrumented moorings, satellite imagery, and computer-based modelling, have illustrated the seasonal progression of the phytoplankton bloom over the past four decades. While we have been sampling phytoplankton variability in the Ross Sea on a variety of relatively large scales, with observations at specific locations or times, over spans of time, or at specific depths, our understanding of smaller scales of variability (on the order of a few hours or several kilometers) is still poor. Utilizing two seasons (2010-2011 and 2012-2013) of high-resolution autonomous glider deployments in the southwestern Ross Sea, I examined the mechanisms driving both the transitions between stages of the phytoplankton bloom and the short-term perturbations in average 0-50 m chlorophyll. By including the available raw fluorescence data from both glider seasons and three mooring seasons, I determined that the 2012-2013 season had greater than average variability, with greater levels of variability observed in only two other seasons. Differences in the timing of bloom transitions were relatively constrained; the transition from bloom to post-bloom levels occurred within a temporal span of 6 d. These findings were likely the result of the location of the 2012-2013 glider adjacent to Ross Island and the Ross Ice Shelf, where complex bathymetry, turbulent flows, and the presence of an ice field contributed to the greater observed variability. To investigate the mechanisms driving the short-term perturbations in chlorophyll, I examined the relationships between average chlorophyll, average temperature, and mixed layer depth measured by the gliders and wind speed measured by two automatic weather stations atop the Ross Ice Shelf. Over the course of the 2012-2013 season, perturbations or responses in chlorophyll were heavily influenced by the degree of temporal coupling between wind events and the depth of mixing. Longer delays of 12-24 h observed prior to the biomass maximum shortened following the transition to biomass dissipation to 2-12 h. Furthermore, by causing aggregate formation and rapid vertical flux, physical forcing factors contributed to the observed short-term perturbations through reductions in biomass in surface layers and the appearance of chlorophyll in deeper layers. These results suggest that the small-scale observing capabilities of autonomous gliders allow for an improved understanding of the mechanisms that drive variability and short-term perturbations in shallow chlorophyll in the southwestern Ross Sea.



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