Characterizing the influence of Atlantic water intrusion on water mass formation and phytoplankton distribution in Kongsfjorden, Svalbard

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Continental Shelf Research


Warm water intrusion into Arctic fjords is increasingly affecting polar ecosystems. This study investigated how Atlantic water intrusion and tidewater glacial melting impacted water mass formation and phytoplankton distribution in Kongsfjorden, Svalbard. Field data were collected over a 2-week period during the height of the melt season in August 2014 and were contextualized within an 18-year regional MODIS satellite record. Since 1998, intruding waters have warmed by 4–5.5 °C, which has prevented sea ice formation and changed the characteristics of fjord bottom waters. Modeled light fields suggest that suspended sediment in this glacial meltwater has reduced the euphotic zone close to the ice face, contributing to lower phytoplankton concentrations in both persistent and intermittently sediment-laden meltwater plumes. However, measurements collected close to terrestrially terminating glaciers indicate that turbidity is significantly lower in the meltwater plumes, resulting in deep euphotic zones and high phytoplankton concentrations. The results of this study support a three-part conceptual model of the effects of warm-water intrusion on water mass formation and primary production within 10 km of tidewater glaciers. Initially, warm water intrusion reduces sea ice coverage, which increases the euphotic depth and increases phytoplankton biomass. Warm water intrusions may also result in increased melting of tidewater glaciers, enhanced sediment release, reduction in euphotic depth and reduction in phytoplankton biomass. Ultimately, as tidewater glaciers retreat and become terrestrially terminating, the sediment load decreases, the euphotic zone again increases, and phytoplankton biomass increases.



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