Pycnocline

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Aquatic layers
Pelagic
   Photic
      Epipelagic
   Aphotic
      Mesopelagic
      Bathyalpelagic
      Abyssopelagic
      Hadopelagic
Demersal
Benthic
Stratification
Pycnocline
   Isopycnal
   Chemocline
      Halocline
   Thermocline
      Thermohaline
Marine habitats
Lake stratification
Aquatic ecosystems
Wild fisheries

A pycnocline is the cline or layer where the density gradient (∂ρ∂z) is greatest within a body of water. An ocean current is generated by the forces such as breaking waves, terms of temperature and salinity differences, wind, Coriolis effect, and tides caused by the gravitational pull of the Moon and the Sun. In addition, the physical properties in a pycnocline driven by density gradients also affect the flows and vertical profiles in the ocean. These changes can be connected to the transport of heat, salt, and nutrients through the ocean, and the pycnocline diffusion controls upwelling.[1]

Below the mixed layer, a stable density gradient (or pycnocline) separates the upper and lower water which hinders vertical transport.[2] This separation has important biological effects on the ocean and the marine living organisms. However, vertical mixing across pycnocline is a regular phenomenon in oceans, and occurs through shear-produced turbulence.[3] Such mixing plays a key role in the transport of nutrients.[4]

Physical function[edit]

Turbulent mixing produced by winds and waves transfers heat downward from the surface. In low and mid-latitudes, this creates a surface-mixed layer of water of almost uniform temperature which may be a few meters deep to several hundred meters deep. Below this mixed layer, at depths of 200–300 m in the open ocean, the temperature begins to decrease rapidly down to about 1000 m. The water layer within which the temperature gradient is steepest is known as the permanent thermocline.[5] The temperature difference through this layer may be as large as 20℃. The permanent thermocline coincides with a change in water density between the warmer, low-density surface waters and the underlying cold dense bottom waters. The region of rapid density change is known as the pycnocline, and it acts as a barrier to vertical water circulation; thus it also affects the vertical distribution of certain chemicals which play a role in the biology of the seas. The sharp gradients in temperature and density also may act as a restriction to vertical movements of animals.[6]

Biological function[edit]

The growth rate of phytoplankton is controlled by the nutrient concentration and the regeneration of nutrients in the sea is very important part of the interaction between higher and lower trophic levels. The separation due to the pycnocline formation prevents the supply of nutrients from the lower layer into the upper layer. Nutrient fluxes through the pycnocline are lower than at other surface layers.[7]

Microbial loop[edit]

The microbial loop is a trophic pathway in the marine microbial food web. The term "microbial loop" is coined by Azam et al. (1983) to describe the role of microbes playing in the marine ecosystem carbon and nutrient cycles where dissolved organic carbon (DOC) is returned to higher trophic levels via the incorporation into bacterial biomass, and also coupled with the classic food chain formed by phytoplankton-zooplankton-nekton.

At the end of phytoplankton bloom, when the algae enter a senescent stage, there is an accumulation of phytodetritus and an increased release of dissolved metabolites. It is particularly at this time that the bacteria can utilize these energy sources to multiply and produce a sharp pulse (or bloom) that follows the phytoplankton bloom. The same relationship between phytoplankton and bacteria influences the vertical distribution of bacterioplankton. Maximum numbers of bacteria generally occur at the pycnocline, where phytodetritus accumulates by sinking from the overlying euphotic zone. There, decomposition by bacteria contributes to the formation of oxygen minimum layers in stable waters.[8]

Diel vertical migration[edit]

One of the most characteristic behavioural features of plankton is a vertical migration that occurs with a 24-hour periodicity. This has often been referred to as diurnal or diel vertical migration. The vertical distance travelled over 24 hours varies, generally being greater among larger species and better swimmers. But even small copepods may migrate several hundred meters twice in a 24-hour period, and stronger swimmers like euphausiids and pelagic shrimp may travel 800 m or more.[9] The depth range of migration may be inhibited by the presence of a thermocline or pycnocline. However, phytoplankton and zooplankton capable of diel vertical migration are often concentrated in the pycnocline.[10] Furthermore, those marine organisms with swimming skills through thermocline or pycnocline may experience strong temperature and density gradients, as well as considerable pressure changes during the migration.

Stability[edit]

Pycnoclines become unstable when their Richardson number drops below 0.25. The Richardson number is a dimensionless number expressing the ratio of potential to kinetic energy. This ratio drops below 0.25 when the shear rate exceeds stratification. This can produce Kelvin-Helmholtz instability, resulting in a turbulence which leads to mixing.[11]

The changes in pycnocline depth or properties can be simulated from some computer program models. The simple approach for those models is to examine the Ekman pumping model based on the ocean general circulation model (OCGM).[12]

Types of clines[edit]

See also[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ 1. Anand Gnanadesikan. 1999. A simple predictive model for the structure of the oceanic pycnocline. Science 283 (5410): 2077–2079.
  2. ^ 2 Mann and Lazier (2006). Dynamics of marine ecosystems. 3rd edition. Blackwell Publishing. Chapter 3.
  3. ^ Turbulent Mixing in Stratified Fluids, Annual Review of Fluid Mechanics (1991)
  4. ^ Vertical Mixing and Transports through a Stratified Shear Layer, Journal of Physical Oceanography (2001)
  5. ^ 3. Knauss, John A. (1997). Introduction to Physical Oceanography. 2nd edition, Prentice-Hall. Chapter 1
  6. ^ 4. Lalli and Parson (1993). Biological oceanography: an introduction. Pergamon press. Chapter 2.
  7. ^ 5. Hales, B., Hebert, D., and Marra, J. 2009. Turbulent supply of nutrients to phytoplankton at the New England shelf break front. Journal of Geophysical Research. Vol. 114, C05010, doi:10.1029/2008JC005011.
  8. ^ 6. Lalli and Parson (1993). Biological oceanography: an introduction. Pergamon press. Chapter 5.
  9. ^ 7. Lalli and Parson (1993). Biological oceanography: an introduction. Pergamon press. Chapter 4.
  10. ^ 8. Hill, A.E. 1998. Diel vertical migration in stratified tidal flows: Implications for plankton dispersal. Journal of Marine Research, Vol 56, pp. 1069-1096.
  11. ^ Density Stratification, Turbulence, but How Much Mixing? Annual Review of Fluid Mechanics (2008)
  12. ^ 10. Capotondi, A., Alexander, M.A., Deser, C., and Miller, A. 2004. Low-frequency pycnocline variability in the Northeast Pacific. American Meteorological Society. Vol. 35, pp. 1403-1420.

References[edit]

  • Anand Gnanadesikan. 1999. A simple predictive model for the structure of the oceanic pycnocline. Science 283 (5410): 2077–2079.
  • Mann and Lazier (2006). Dynamics of marine ecosystems. 3rd edition. Blackwell Publishing. Chapter 3.
  • Knauss, John A. (1997). Introduction to Physical Oceanography. 2nd edition, Prentice-Hall. Chapter 1
  • Lalli and Parson (1993). Biological oceanography: an introduction. Pergamon press. Chapter 2.
  • Hales, B., Hebert, D., and Marra, J. 2009. Turbulent supply of nutrients to phytoplankton at the New England shelf break front. Journal of Geophysical Research. Vol. 114, C05010, doi:10.1029/2008JC005011.
  • Lalli and Parson (1993). Biological oceanography: an introduction. Pergamon press. Chapter 5.
  • Lalli and Parson (1993). Biological oceanography: an introduction. Pergamon press. Chapter 4.
  • Hill, A.E. 1998. Diel vertical migration in stratified tidal flows: Implications for plankton dispersal. Journal of Marine Research, Vol 56, pp. 1069–1096.
  • Talley, Lynne D., Pickard, George L., Emery, William J., and Swift, James H. Descriptive Physical Oceanography: an introduction. 6th
  • Capotondi, A., Alexander, M.A., Deser, C., and Miller, A. 2004. Low-frequency pycnocline variability in the Northeast Pacific. American Meteorological Society. Vol. 35, pp. 1403–1420.