• Investigating marine particle distributions and processes using in situ optical imaging in the Gulf of Alaska

      Turner, Jessica S.; McDonnell, Andrew; Johnson, Mark; Islas, Ana Aguilar (2015-12)
      The Gulf of Alaska is a seasonally productive ecosystem surrounded by glaciated coastal mountains with high precipitation. With a combination of high biological production, inputs of suspended sediments from glacial runoff, and contrasting nutrient regimes in offshore and shelf environments, there is a great need to study particle cycling in this region. I measured the concentrations and size distributions of large marine particles (0.06-27 mm) during four cruises in 2014 and 2015 using the Underwater Vision Profiler (UVP). The UVP produces high resolution depth profiles of particle concentrations and size distributions throughout the water column, while generating individual images of objects >500 μm including marine snow particles and mesozooplankton. The objectives of this study were to 1) describe spatial variability in particle concentrations and size distributions, and 2) use that variability to identify driving processes. I hypothesized that UVP particle concentrations and size distributions would follow patterns in chlorophyll a concentrations. Results did not support this hypothesis. Instead, a major contrast between shelf and offshore particle concentrations and sizes was observed. Total concentrations of particles increased with proximity to glacial and fluvial inputs. Over the shelf, particle concentrations on the order of 1000-10,000/L were 1-2 orders of magnitude greater than offshore concentrations on the order of 100/L. Driving processes over the shelf included terrigenous inputs from land, resuspension of bottom sediments, and advective transport of those inputs along and across the shelf. Offshore, biological processes were drivers of spatial variability in particle concentration and size. High quantities of terrigenous sediments could have implications for enhanced particle flux due to ballasting effects and for offshore transport of particulate phase iron to the central iron-limited gyre. The dominance of resuspended material in shelf processes will inform the location of future studies of the biological pump in the coastal Gulf of Alaska. This work highlights the importance of continental margins in global biogeochemical processes.