High-resolution surveys of the biogeochemistry of the New England shelfbreak front during Summer, 2002

Document Type


Date of Original Version



We present the observations from a pair of field experiments at the New England shelfbreak front in June and August of 2002, each consisting of 14 cross-frontal surveys using the Lamont Pumping SeaSoar. Measurements of the front's physical, chemical, and bio-optical characteristics were made at high spatial and temporal resolution. The front, based on water-column hydrographic distributions, was found within a few km of the 200 m isobath during both cruises. We present here composite sections, based on averages of individual sections shifted in space to a common frontal location, of the cross-frontal distributions of these properties as a measure of the mean state of the front in both June and August. The observations show the familiar temperature, salinity, and density distributions of the summertime front, dominated by surface thermal heating. Nutrient and bio-optical distributions show the combined effects of water-mass exchange and biological processes. T, S, silicate, and phosphate distributions are suggestive of cross-frontal exchange of slope- and shelf waters, although transport mechanisms and pathways are not apparent. These properties, along with nitrate and optical measures of the suspended particle distributions, show vertical displacements of isopleths as the front is approached: property contours slope upwards toward the front from the shoreward side, and downwards toward the front from the seaward side. Again, actual water-movement pathways are not constrained by these suggestive patterns. Bio-optical distributions show elevated indicators of photosynthetic efficiency both seaward and shoreward of the front, but the front itself is a minimum in biomass. Accumulation of photosynthetic biomass appears to be controlled primarily by nitrate scarcity in waters within and above the pycnocline. At the base of the pycnocline, light limitation appears to be the controlling factor, although the base of the euphotic zone is deeper than the biomass maxima and the base of the pycnocline. Mechanisms explaining this phenomenon are unclear, but tenuous evidence suggests low stratification at the depth of the 1% light level may not allow phytoplankton to optimize for the low-light, high-nutrient conditions at depth. Cross-frontal differences in nutrient and bio-optical parameters, particularly in August, suggest distinct phytoplankton assemblages, and the presence of calcite-forming or nitrogen fixing groups to the community structure, especially in very shallow waters across the front and in pycnocline waters seaward of the front. © 2009 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.

Publication Title, e.g., Journal

Journal of Marine Systems