Seasonal modulation of mesoscale processes alters nutrient availability and plankton communities in the Red Sea

Benjamin Kürten, Nikolaos Zarokanellos, Reny P. Devassy, Mohsen M. El-Sherbiny, Ulrich Struck, Douglas G. Capone, Isabelle Katharina Schulz, Ali M. Al-Aidaroos, Xabier Irigoien, Burton Jones

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

18 Scopus citations


Hydrographic and atmospheric forcing set fundamental constraints on the biogeochemistry of aquatic ecosystems and manifest in patterns of resource (nutrient) availability and recycling, species composition of communities, trophic dynamics, and ecosystem metabolism. In the Red Sea, gradients in environmental conditions and primary production have been ascribed to fluctuations in Gulf of Aden Water inflow, upwelling/mixing, and regenerated nutrient utilization i.e. rapidly recycled nitrogen in upper layers. However, the understanding of upper layer dynamics and related changes in plankton communities, metabolism and carbon and nitrogen export is limited. We surmised that stratification and mesoscale eddies modulate the nutrient availability and taxonomic identity of plankton communities in the central Red Sea. Based on remote-sensing data of sea level anomalies and high resolution in situ profiling (ScanFish) we selected stations for hydrographic CTD profiles, water sampling (nutrients, seawater stable oxygen isotopes [δ18OSW]), phytoplankton and zooplankton collections. In fall 2014, strong stratification subjected the plankton community to an overall nitrogen and phosphorus shortage. The nutrient deficiency increased numbers of heterotrophic dinoflagellates, microzooplankton, and diazotrophs (Trichodesmium, diatom-diazotroph associations [DDAs]), albeit largely decreased phytoplankton and mesozooplankton abundances. In spring 2015, mesoscale eddies increased the nutrient availability, and the thermohaline characteristics and low δ18OSW point to the interaction of eddies with Gulf of Aden Surface Water (GASW). Cyclonic eddies and, most likely, the availability of nutrients associated with the GASW, increased the abundances of autotrophs (diatoms, Prasinophytes) and supported larger numbers of zooplankton and their larvae. We demonstrate that the interplay of stratification, advection of Gulf of Aden water and mesoscale eddies are key to better understand changes in plankton community composition, ecosystem metabolism, and macronutrient export in the Red Sea in space and time.
Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)238-255
Number of pages18
JournalProgress in Oceanography
StatePublished - Feb 10 2019


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