Journal cover Journal topic
Biogeosciences An interactive open-access journal of the European Geosciences Union
Journal topic
Volume 14, issue 6
Biogeosciences, 14, 1419-1444, 2017
https://doi.org/10.5194/bg-14-1419-2017
© Author(s) 2017. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License.
Biogeosciences, 14, 1419-1444, 2017
https://doi.org/10.5194/bg-14-1419-2017
© Author(s) 2017. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License.

Research article 21 Mar 2017

Research article | 21 Mar 2017

Observing and modelling phytoplankton community structure in the North Sea

David A. Ford1, Johan van der Molen2,3, Kieran Hyder2, John Bacon2, Rosa Barciela1, Veronique Creach2, Robert McEwan1, Piet Ruardij3, and Rodney Forster2,4 David A. Ford et al.
  • 1Met Office, FitzRoy Road, Exeter, EX1 3PB, UK
  • 2Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science (Cefas), Pakefield Road, Lowestoft, NR33 0HT, UK
  • 3Royal Netherlands Institute for Sea Research (NIOZ), Department of Coastal Systems and Utrecht University, P.O. Box 59, 1790 AB Den Burg, Texel, the Netherlands
  • 4University of Hull, Cottingham Road, Hull, HU6 7RX, UK

Abstract. Phytoplankton form the base of the marine food chain, and knowledge of phytoplankton community structure is fundamental when assessing marine biodiversity. Policy makers and other users require information on marine biodiversity and other aspects of the marine environment for the North Sea, a highly productive European shelf sea. This information must come from a combination of observations and models, but currently the coastal ocean is greatly under-sampled for phytoplankton data, and outputs of phytoplankton community structure from models are therefore not yet frequently validated. This study presents a novel set of in situ observations of phytoplankton community structure for the North Sea using accessory pigment analysis. The observations allow a good understanding of the patterns of surface phytoplankton biomass and community structure in the North Sea for the observed months of August 2010 and 2011. Two physical–biogeochemical ocean models, the biogeochemical components of which are different variants of the widely used European Regional Seas Ecosystem Model (ERSEM), were then validated against these and other observations. Both models were a good match for sea surface temperature observations, and a reasonable match for remotely sensed ocean colour observations. However, the two models displayed very different phytoplankton community structures, with one better matching the in situ observations than the other. Nonetheless, both models shared some similarities with the observations in terms of spatial features and inter-annual variability. An initial comparison of the formulations and parameterizations of the two models suggests that diversity between the parameter settings of model phytoplankton functional types, along with formulations which promote a greater sensitivity to changes in light and nutrients, is key to capturing the observed phytoplankton community structure. These findings will help inform future model development, which should be coupled with detailed validation studies, in order to help facilitate the wider application of marine biogeochemical modelling to user and policy needs.

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This study presents a novel set of in situ observations of phytoplankton community structure for the North Sea. These observations were used to validate two physical–biogeochemical ocean model simulations, each of which used different variants of the widely used European Regional Seas Ecosystem Model (ERSEM). The results suggest the ability of the models to reproduce the observed phytoplankton community structure was dependent on the details of the biogeochemical model parameterizations used.
This study presents a novel set of in situ observations of phytoplankton community structure for...
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