Skip to main content

Thank you for visiting nature.com. You are using a browser version with limited support for CSS. To obtain the best experience, we recommend you use a more up to date browser (or turn off compatibility mode in Internet Explorer). In the meantime, to ensure continued support, we are displaying the site without styles and JavaScript.

Reduced mixing generates oscillations and chaos in the oceanic deep chlorophyll maximum

Abstract

Deep chlorophyll maxima (DCMs) are widespread in large parts of the world's oceans1,2,3,4,5,6,7. These deep layers of high chlorophyll concentration reflect a compromise of phytoplankton growth exposed to two opposing resource gradients: light supplied from above and nutrients supplied from below. It is often argued that DCMs are stable features. Here we show, however, that reduced vertical mixing can generate oscillations and chaos in phytoplankton biomass and species composition of DCMs. These fluctuations are caused by a difference in the timescales of two processes: (1) rapid export of sinking plankton, withdrawing nutrients from the euphotic zone and (2) a slow upward flux of nutrients fuelling new phytoplankton production. Climate models predict that global warming will reduce vertical mixing in the oceans8,9,10,11. Our model indicates that reduced mixing will generate more variability in DCMs, thereby enhancing variability in oceanic primary production and in carbon export into the ocean interior.

Access options

Rent or Buy article

Get time limited or full article access on ReadCube.

from$8.99

All prices are NET prices.

Figure 1: Time course of the DCM at Station ALOHA, in the subtropical Pacific Ocean, North of Hawaii.
Figure 2: Model simulations at different intensities of vertical mixing.
Figure 3: Bifurcation patterns generated in a constant environment.
Figure 4: Competition between three phytoplankton species in an oscillating DCM.

References

  1. 1

    Venrick, E. L., McGowan, J. A. & Mantyla, A. W. Deep maxima of photosynthetic chlorophyll in the Pacific Ocean. Fishery Bull. 71, 41–52 (1973)

    CAS  Google Scholar 

  2. 2

    Cullen, J. J. The deep chlorophyll maximum: comparing vertical profiles of chlorophyll a. Can. J. Fish. Aquat. Sci. 39, 791–803 (1982)

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  3. 3

    Mann, K. H. & Lazier, J. R. N. Dynamics of Marine Ecosystems (Blackwell Science, Oxford, 1996)

    Google Scholar 

  4. 4

    Longhurst, A. R. Ecological Geography of the Sea (Academic, San Diego, 1998)

    Google Scholar 

  5. 5

    Letelier, R. M., Karl, D. M., Abbott, M. R. & Bidigare, R. R. Light driven seasonal patterns of chlorophyll and nitrate in the lower euphotic zone of the North Pacific Subtropical Gyre. Limnol. Oceanogr. 49, 508–519 (2004)

    CAS  Article  ADS  Google Scholar 

  6. 6

    Venrick, E. L. Phytoplankton seasonality in the central North Pacific: the endless summer reconsidered. Limnol. Oceanogr. 38, 1135–1149 (1993)

    CAS  Article  ADS  Google Scholar 

  7. 7

    Holm-Hansen, O. & Hewes, C. D. Deep chlorophyll-a maxima (DCMs) in Antarctic waters. I. Relationships between DCMs and the physical, chemical, and optical conditions in the upper water column. Polar Biol. 27, 699–710 (2004)

    Article  Google Scholar 

  8. 8

    Sarmiento, J. L., Hughes, T. M. C., Stouffer, R. J. & Manabe, S. Simulated response of the ocean carbon cycle to anthropogenic climate warming. Nature 393, 245–249 (1998)

    CAS  Article  ADS  Google Scholar 

  9. 9

    Bopp, L. et al. Potential impact of climate change on marine export production. Glob. Biogeochem. Cycles 15, 81–99 (2001)

    CAS  Article  ADS  Google Scholar 

  10. 10

    Sarmiento, J. L. et al. Response of ocean ecosystems to climate warming. Glob. Biogeochem. Cycles 18, doi:10.1029/2003GB002134 (2004)

  11. 11

    Schmittner, A. Decline of the marine ecosystem caused by a reduction in the Atlantic overturning circulation. Nature 434, 628–633 (2005)

    CAS  Article  ADS  Google Scholar 

  12. 12

    Fennel, K. & Boss, E. Subsurface maxima of phytoplankton and chlorophyll: steady-state solutions from a simple model. Limnol. Oceanogr. 48, 1521–1534 (2003)

    Article  ADS  Google Scholar 

  13. 13

    Hodges, B. A. & Rudnick, D. L. Simple models of steady deep maxima in chlorophyll and biomass. Deep-Sea Res. I 51, 999–1015 (2004)

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  14. 14

    Klausmeier, C. A. & Litchman, E. Algal games: the vertical distribution of phytoplankton in poorly mixed water columns. Limnol. Oceanogr. 46, 1998–2007 (2001)

    Article  ADS  Google Scholar 

  15. 15

    Huisman, J., Arrayás, M., Ebert, U. & Sommeijer, B. How do sinking phytoplankton species manage to persist? Am. Nat. 159, 245–254 (2002)

    Article  Google Scholar 

  16. 16

    Huisman, J. et al. Changes in turbulent mixing shift competition for light between phytoplankton species. Ecology 85, 2960–2970 (2004)

    Article  Google Scholar 

  17. 17

    Okubo, A. & Levin, S. A. Diffusion and Ecological Problems: Modern Perspectives 2nd edn (Springer, Berlin, 2001)

    Book  Google Scholar 

  18. 18

    Karl, D. M. et al. Seasonal and interannual variability in primary production and particle flux at Station ALOHA. Deep-Sea Res. II 43, 539–568 (1996)

    CAS  Article  ADS  Google Scholar 

  19. 19

    Lewis, M. R., Harrison, W. G., Oakey, N. S., Hebert, D. & Platt, T. Vertical nitrate fluxes in the oligotrophic ocean. Science 234, 870–873 (1986)

    CAS  Article  ADS  Google Scholar 

  20. 20

    Smyth, W. D., Moum, J. N. & Caldwell, D. R. The efficiency of mixing in turbulent patches: inferences from direct simulations and microstructure observations. J. Phys. Oceanogr. 31, 1969–1992 (2001)

    Article  ADS  Google Scholar 

  21. 21

    Finnigan, T. D., Luther, D. S. & Lukas, R. Observations of enhanced diapycnal mixing near the Hawaiian ridge. J. Phys. Oceanogr. 32, 2988–3002 (2002)

    Article  ADS  Google Scholar 

  22. 22

    Rinaldi, S., Muratori, S. & Kuznetsov, Y. Multiple attractors, catastrophes and chaos in seasonally perturbed predator-prey communities. Bull. Math. Biol. 55, 15–35 (1993)

    Article  Google Scholar 

  23. 23

    Vandermeer, J., Stone, L. & Blasius, B. Categories of chaos and fractal basin boundaries in forced predator-prey models. Chaos Soliton Fract. 12, 265–276 (2001)

    MathSciNet  Article  ADS  Google Scholar 

  24. 24

    Huisman, J. & Sommeijer, B. Population dynamics of sinking phytoplankton in light-limited environments: simulation techniques and critical parameters. J. Sea Res. 48, 83–96 (2002)

    Article  ADS  Google Scholar 

  25. 25

    Huisman, J. & Weissing, F. J. Biodiversity of plankton by species oscillations and chaos. Nature 402, 407–410 (1999)

    Article  ADS  Google Scholar 

  26. 26

    Venrick, E. L. Phytoplankton species structure in the central North Pacific, 1973–1996: variability and persistence. J. Plankton Res. 21, 1029–1042 (1999)

    Article  Google Scholar 

Download references

Acknowledgements

We thank R. R. Bidigare for HPLC pigment analyses, and M. Stomp, J.G. Verwer and J. Williams for discussions. J.H. was supported by the Earth and Life Sciences Foundation (ALW), which is subsidized by the Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research (NWO). N.N.P.T. was supported by the Computational Science program of NWO. D.M.K. acknowledges support from the US National Science Foundation and the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation. B.S. acknowledges support from the Dutch BSIK/BRICKS project. Author Contributions J.H. and N.N.P.T. contributed equally to this work. J.H., N.N.P.T. and B.S. developed the model structure. N.N.P.T. and B.S. wrote the numerical code. D.M.K. provided data from the Hawaii Ocean Time-series program. J.H. wrote the paper. All authors discussed the results and commented on the manuscript.

Author information

Affiliations

Authors

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Jef Huisman.

Ethics declarations

Competing interests

The time-series data from the Hawaii Ocean Time-series program are deposited at http://hahana.soest.hawaii.edu/hot/hot-dogs. Reprints and permissions information is available at npg.nature.com/reprintsandpermissions. The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Supplementary information

Supplementary Notes

This file contains Supplementary Methods and Supplementary Discussion, Supplementary Figure 1 and Supplementary Table 1. (PDF 245 kb)

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Huisman, J., Pham Thi, N., Karl, D. et al. Reduced mixing generates oscillations and chaos in the oceanic deep chlorophyll maximum. Nature 439, 322–325 (2006). https://doi.org/10.1038/nature04245

Download citation

Further reading

Comments

By submitting a comment you agree to abide by our Terms and Community Guidelines. If you find something abusive or that does not comply with our terms or guidelines please flag it as inappropriate.

Search

Quick links

Nature Briefing

Sign up for the Nature Briefing newsletter — what matters in science, free to your inbox daily.

Get the most important science stories of the day, free in your inbox. Sign up for Nature Briefing