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Seasonal controls on shelf-edge nutrient fluxes at the Malin Shelf

Funder: UK Research and InnovationProject code: NE/J020222/1
Funded under: NERC Funder Contribution: 144,927 GBP

Seasonal controls on shelf-edge nutrient fluxes at the Malin Shelf

Description

Nutrients are essential for phytoplankton growth in the sea. Phytoplankton take up nutrients from the surrounding water and the extent of their growth is largely dependent on nutrient availability. Nitrate and phosphate are vital nutrients and their presence in light-rich surface waters can sustain algal blooms. Phytoplankton draw down carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and in shelf seas can lock this carbon up in the sediments. In this project we will investigate the idea that the seasonal supply of nutrients to shelf seas is controlled by physical mixing processes at the shelf edge. This will be carried out using new sensors capable of determining nitrate and phosphate in-situ which will be deployed on underwater gliders for up to 3 weeks at a time. Underwater gliders are autonomous vehicles that, after launching from close to the coast, can "fly" to a sampling site and send back data via a satellite link. We will use four glider missions over a seasonal timescale (June & Sept 2013, Jan & April 2014) in order to gain a fundamental insight into the annual supply of nutrients to the highly productive shelf seas around the Malin Shelf. Alongside the nutrient sensors on the gliders will be three other sensors, a conductivity and temperature sensor, an oxygen sensor and a sensor which can determine chlorophyll a which is used as a proxy for phytoplankton biomass in the water. For each mission we will use two gliders to simultaneously characterise both the on- and off-shelf concentration gradients. These glider missions will be integrated into a large NERC-funded consortium, FASTNEt, which aims to identify the physical processes that facilitate the exchange of water across the edge of the north-west European shelf and understand how they evolve across the seasons. FASTNEt will be deploying long-term, shelf-edge current meter moorings and another underwater autonomous vehicle, the Autosub Long Range (ALR) in the same location. The use of sensors deployed on gliders allow us to increase the spatial and temporal coverage of data that would not be possible from traditional shipboard measurements, that cannot be carried out in stormy conditions. The combination of in-depth knowledge of the physical processes occurring at the Malin Shelf along with accurate high resolution nutrient data from the sensors means that we will be able to investigate what controls nutrient supply to the photic zone and how this impacts on the phytoplankton growth. Additionally, we will be trialling new deployment methodologies for these underwater gliders - using fast day-boats to take them as far offshore as possible from a coastal base. Our data will be freely available and we will share our findings with end-users (such as the UK government's Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs who are responsible for fisheries, and the UK Met Office) throughout the project.

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