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Limnology and Oceanography


Coincident with shifting monsoon weather patterns over India, the phytoplankter Noctiluca miliaris has recently been observed to be dominating phytoplankton blooms in the northeastern Arabian Sea during the winter monsoons. Identifying the exact environmental and/or ecological conditions that favor this species has been hampered by the lack of concurrent environmental and biological observations on time and space scales relevant to ecologic and physiologic processes. We present a bio-optical proxy for N. miliaris measured on highly resolved depth scales coincident with hydrographic observations with the goal to identify conducive hydrographic conditions for the bloom. The proxy is derived from multichannel excitation chlorophyll a fluorescence and is validated with microscopy, pigment composition, and spectral absorption. Phytoplankton populations dominated by either diatoms or other dinoflagellates were additionally discerned. N. miliaris populations in full bloom were identified offshore in low-nutrient and low–N:P ratio surface waters within a narrow temperature and salinity range. These populations transitioned to high-biomass diatom-dominated coastal upwelling populations. A week later, the N. miliaris blooms were observed in declining phase, transitioning to very-low-biomass populations of non–N. miliaris dinoflagellates. There were no clear hydrographic conditions uniquely associated with the N. miliaris populations, although N. miliaris was not found in the upwelling or extremely oligotrophic waters. Taxonomic transitions were not discernible in the spatial structure of the bloom as identified by the ocean color Chl imagery, indicating that in situ observations may be necessary to resolve community structure, particularly for populations below the surface.

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