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Publication Date
14 December 2022

The Role of Phytoplankton Biomacromolecules in Controlling Ocean Surface Roughness



Satellite altimetric data routinely map sea surface topography by measuring the ocean return signal. One source of altimeter measurement contamination occurs when the radar ocean backscatter becomes unusually large, a situation termed a Sigma-0 bloom. Past research suggests Sigma-0 blooms are associated with weak wind and natural surface slick conditions where capillary waves at the air–sea interface are suppressed. To date, no explicit connection between these conditions and Sigma-0 bloom presence has been provided. Using a series of simplified equations, our reduced model determines capillary wave heights from estimates of planktonic carbon concentrations and regional wind speed. Our results suggest that the radar signal reflection increases as capillary wave height decreases. This relationship depends on surfactant concentration, surfactant composition, and wind speed. Model sensitivity analysis indicates that the interface reflectivity depends on biological activity and wind speed. Our proposed simplified model provides a method to identify potential Sigma-0 bloom regions. We conclude that because of the demonstrated impact of biological surfactants on ocean roughness, it is necessary to consider the biological activity, i.e., phytoplankton bloom events, when interpreting signals from radar altimetry and when developing ocean hydrology models.

Jayasinghe, Amadini, Scott M. Elliott, Georgina A. Gibson, and Douglas Vandemark. 2022. “The Role Of Phytoplankton Biomacromolecules In Controlling Ocean Surface Roughness”. Atmosphere 13 (12). MDPI AG: 2101. doi:10.3390/atmos13122101.
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