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Persistent Differences in Horizontal Gradients in Phytoplankton Concentration Maintained by Surf Zone Hydrodynamics


Surf zones, regions of breaking waves, are at the interface between the shore and coastal ocean. Surf zone hydrodynamics may affect delivery of phytoplankton subsidies to the intertidal zone. Over a month of daily sampling at an intermediate surf zone with bathymetric rip currents and a reflective surf zone, we measured surf zone hydrodynamics and compared concentrations of coastal phytoplankton taxa in the surf zones to concentrations offshore. At the intermediate surf zone, ~80% of the variability in the concentration of coastal phytoplankton taxa within the surf zone was explained by their variation offshore; however, concentrations were much higher and lower than those offshore in samples from a bathymetric rip current and over the adjacent shoal, respectively. Hydrodynamics at this intermediate surf zone did not hinder the delivery of coastal phytoplankton to the surf zone, but the bathymetric rip current system appeared to redistribute phytoplankton concentrating them within eddies. At the reflective shore, we sampled surf zones at a beach and two adjacent rocky intertidal sites. Concentrations of typical coastal phytoplankton taxa were usually an order of magnitude or more lower than those offshore, even when offshore samples were collected just 20 m beyond the breakers. The phytoplankton assemblages inside and outside the surf zone often appeared to be disconnected. Surf zone hydrodynamics at the steep, reflective shore coupled with low phytoplankton concentrations in near-surface water appeared to limit delivery of phytoplankton subsidies to the surf zone. Surf zone hydrodynamics may be a key factor in the alongshore variation in phytoplankton subsidies to coastal communities.

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