How well does chlorophyll explain the seasonal variation in phytoplankton activity?

The seasonal variation in phytoplankton activity is determined by analysing 1385 primary production (PP) profiles, chlorophyll a (Chl) concentration profiles and phytoplankton carbon biomass concentrations (C) from the period 1998–2012. The data was collected at six different stations in the Baltic Sea transition zone (BSTZ) which is a location with strong seasonal production patterns with light as the key parameter controlling this productivity. We show that the use of Chl as a proxy for phytoplankton activity strongly overestimates the contribution from the spring production to annual pelagic carbon flow. Spring (February and March) Chl comprised 16–30% of the total annual Chl produced, whereas spring C was much lower (8–23%) compared to the annual C. Spring PP accounted for 10–18% of the total annual PP, while the July–August production contributed 26–33%, i.e. within the time frame when zooplankton biomass and grazing pressure are highest. That is, Chl failed in this study to reflect the importance of the high summer PP. A better proxy for biomass may be C, which correlated well with the seasonal pattern of PP (Pearson correlation, p < 0.05). Thus, this study suggests to account for the strong seasonal pattern in C/Chl ratios when considering carbon flow in coastal systems. Seasonal data for PP were fitted to a simple sinusoidal wave model describing the seasonal distribution of PP in the BSTZ and were proposed to present a better parameterizaton of PP in shallow stratified temperate regions than more commonly applied proxies.