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Research Document - 2013/070

Optical, chemical, and biological oceanographic conditions on the Scotian Shelf and in the eastern Gulf of Maine in 2012

By Johnson, C., Harrison, G., Casault, B., Spry, J., Li, W., and Head, E.


In 2012, anomalously warm ocean temperatures throughout the water column on the Scotian Shelf and eastern Gulf of Maine influenced the chemical and biological conditions of the region. Stratification was higher than average on the Scotian Shelf. At the Halifax-2 fixed station, upper water column (0-50 m) nitrate was lower than normal throughout 2012, while deep water (50-150 m) nitrate concentrations were much higher than normal, suggesting that stratification may have inhibited nutrient mixing into the upper water column. Deep water nitrate concentrations were also higher than average throughout most of the region. Spring bloom initiation timing at Halifax-2 was about average, and the bloom was average in magnitude but short in duration, but winter chlorophyll concentrations were higher than average. Satellite ocean color observations also indicated high winter chlorophyll concentrations and early and/or short spring bloom timing across much of the Scotian Shelf.  Although chlorophyll concentrations were about average following the spring bloom at Halifax-2, light attenuation was high, cell abundances were low, and diatoms and dinoflagellates were less relatively abundant and flagellates and ciliates more relatively abundant than normal, suggesting a shift to a smaller-sized phytoplankton community, possibly including higher than average concentrations of picoplankton. At the Prince-5 fixed station, the seasonal chlorophyll cycle was similar to normal, but chlorophyll values were higher than average in July and August, when chain forming diatoms (July) and dinoflagellates (August) were abundant. Satellite ocean colour indicated higher than average surface chlorophyll across the eastern Gulf of Maine in August and September.

Zooplankton biomass was very low at Halifax-2 throughout 2012, and it was also low on all shelf sections in fall. At Prince-5, zooplankton biomass was mostly low in the first half of the year but rebounded in the fall. At both fixed stations,Calanus finmarchicus abundances were low everywhere throughout 2012. C. finmarchicus production was likely impacted by its low abundance at the end of 2011 and high temperatures experienced by the dormant stock during the fall and winter of 2011/2012. At Halifax-2, a short phytoplankton bloom and low diatom abundance may have also contributed to low abundances of C. finmarchicus and Pseudocalanus spp. during 2012. Transient high abundances of small-particle-feeding zooplankton taxa (appendicularians, salps, pteropods) were observed both on the Scotian Shelf and at Prince-5. Cold-associated immigrant species (Arctic Calanus) were less abundant and warm offshore species generally more abundant than average in 2012, consistent with warmer temperatures and model estimates of changes in circulation. Overall, lower trophic level changes in 2012 suggest poor feeding conditions for planktivores on the Scotian Shelf, but the late summer-early fall bloom in the eastern Gulf of Maine and Bay of Fundy may have been favorable for some higher trophic level species.

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