Understanding the spatio-temporal variability of phytoplankton biomass distribution in a microtidal Mediterranean estuary

M. L. Artigas, C. Llebot, O. N. Ross, N. Z. Neszi, V. Rodellas, J. Garcia-Orellana, P. Masqué, J. Piera, M. Estrada, E. Berdalet

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20 Citations (Scopus)


Understanding the spatio-temporal variability of phytoplankton in aquaculture zones is necessary for the prevention and/or prediction of harmful algal bloom events. Synoptic cruises, time series analyses of physical and biological parameters, and 3D modeling were combined to investigate the variability of phytoplankton biomass in Alfacs Bay at basin scale. This microtidal estuary located in the NW Mediterranean is an important area of shellfish and finfish exploitation, which is regularly affected by toxic outbreaks. Observations showed the existence of a preferential phytoplankton accumulation area on the NE interior of the bay. This pattern can be observed throughout the year, and we show that it is directly linked to the physical forcing in the bay, in particular, the interplay between freshwater input and wind-induced turbulence. Both drivers affect the strength of the estuarine circulation, explaining nearly 75% of the variability in phytoplankton biomass. More cells are retained when stratification is weakened and the estuarine circulation reduced, while flushing rates are higher during times of increased stratification and stronger estuarine flow. This has been confirmed by using a 3D hydrodynamic model with Eulerian tracers. Nutrients, while important to support phytoplankton populations, have been found to play only a secondary role in explaining this variability at basin scale. © 2014 Elsevier Ltd.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)180-192
JournalDeep-Sea Research Part II: Topical Studies in Oceanography
Publication statusPublished - 1 Mar 2014


  • Alfacs Bay
  • Estuarine circulation
  • Meteorological forcing
  • Microtidal estuary
  • Physical-biological interactions
  • Phytoplankton variability


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