Investigating the Role of Trichodesmium spp. in the Oceanic Nitrogen Cycle Through Observations and Models

Elise Olson, Ph.D., 2014
Dennis McGillicuddy, Advisor

The nitrogen fixation and abundance of Trichodesmiumcolonies and their connections with physical processes were investigated through Video Plankton Recorder (VPR) and other observations collected in fall 2010 and spring 2011 in the western subtropical–tropical North Atlantic. A data processing procedure for estimating rare taxon abundance was devised to leverage the accuracy of manual classification and the effort savings of automatic classification.

In fall 2010, local maxima in colony abundance were observed in a series of cyclones. We hypothesized Ekman transport convergence/divergence in cyclones/anticyclones as a driving mechanism and investigated the process using idealized three-dimensional models. Elevated abundances in anticyclones in spring 2011 were correlated with anomalously fresh water connected to river outflow.

A bio-optical model based on carbon-normalized nitrogen fixation rates measured in fall 2010 and spring 2011 was used to estimate nitrogen fixation over the VPR transects. Mean VPR-based estimates of abundance and volume-specific nitrogen fixation rates at depth in the tropical North Atlantic were not inconsistent with estimates derived from conventional sampling methods compiled in a database by Luo et al. (2012). These findings did not reveal the systematic underestimation of deep colony populations and nitrogen fixation hypothesized by Davis and McGillicuddy (2006).