A Global Comparison of Marine Chlorophyll Variability Observed in Eulerian and Lagrangian Perspectives

Document Type


Date of Original Version



Ocean chlorophyll time series exhibit temporal variability on a range of timescales due to environmental change, ecological interactions, dispersal, and other factors. The differences in chlorophyll temporal variability observed at stationary locations (Eulerian perspective) or following water parcels (Lagrangian perspective) are poorly understood. Here we contrasted the temporal variability of ocean chlorophyll in these two observational perspectives, using global drifter trajectories and satellite chlorophyll to generate matched pairs of Eulerian-Lagrangian time series. We found that for most ocean locations, chlorophyll variances measured in Eulerian and Lagrangian perspectives are not statistically different. In high latitude areas, the two perspectives may capture similar variability due to the large spatial scale of chlorophyll patches. In localized regions of the ocean, however, chlorophyll variability measured in these two perspectives may significantly differ. For example, in some western boundary currents, temporal chlorophyll variability in the Lagrangian perspective was greater than in the Eulerian perspective. In these cases, the observing platform travels rapidly across strong environmental gradients and constrained by the shelf topography, potentially leading to greater Lagrangian variability in chlorophyll. In contrast, we found that Eulerian chlorophyll variability exceeded Lagrangian variability in some key upwelling zones and boundary current extensions. In these cases, variability in the nutrient supply may generate intermittent chlorophyll anomalies in the Eulerian perspective, while the Lagrangian perspective sees the transport of such anomalies off-shore. These findings aid with the interpretation of chlorophyll time series from different sampling methodologies, inform observational network design, and guide validation of marine ecosystem models.

Publication Title, e.g., Journal

Journal of Geophysical Research: Oceans