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Research Articles

Vol. 1 No. 1 (2021): Georgetown Scientific Research Journal: Fall 2020 Issue

Biological and Physical Interactions at Local Ocean Scales: Coupled Systems

December 4, 2020


Physical and biogeochemical processes that influence primary production set Earth’s carbon and heat budgets. While these processes have long been the focus of research, high resolution models to investigate local phenomena have only recently been developed, and two-way coupling between oceanic physics and biology is only recently getting attention due to computational power. With these new developments, it is possible to study the mechanisms through which these processes interact at both global and regional scales to shape Earth’s climate, which is the goal of this paper. This paper introduces oceanic physical phenomena at submesoscales to global scales – like mixed layer depth and turbulent structures – and the relationship of smaller scale events with biological factors. It discusses the implications of these relationships for primary production. After an introductory explanation of turbulence, primarily in the form of eddies and fronts, and the effects of internal instability and surface forcing, this paper emphasizes the contributions of those phenomena (turbulence, internal instability, and surface forcing) to vertical velocities and the influence of vertical transport on biology. Next, it introduces biogeochemical feedbacks, concerning both large scale population dynamics and increased absorption of radiation at the submesoscale, to consider their impacts on physical dynamics and regional climates. Finally, the paper compiles equations of irradiance and variables of significance, suggesting terms that could produce meaningful responses to variations in phytoplankton populations. The paper highlights the importance of understanding physical-biogeochemical relationships and suggests directions for future research, particularly areas related to global warming or abrupt climate change.