Floats with bio-optical sensors reveal what processes trigger the North Atlantic bloom
The North Atlantic bloom corresponds to a strong seasonal increase in phytoplankton that produces organic carbon through photosynthesis. It is still debated what physical and biological conditions trigger the bloom, because comprehensive time series of the vertical distribution of phytoplankton biomass are lacking. Vertical profiles from nine floats that sampled the waters of the North Atlantic every few days for a couple of years reveal that phytoplankton populations start growing in early winter at very weak rates. A proper bloom with rapidly accelerating population growth rates instead starts only in spring when atmospheric cooling subsides and the mixed layer rapidly shoals. While the weak accumulation of phytoplankton in winter is crucial to maintaining a viable population, the spring bloom dominates the overall seasonal production of organic carbon.