Research in Mechanical Engineering

A Remote Sensing Study of the Relationship between Density Fronts and Phytoplankton Blooms in the North Atlantic

By Samuel Filliettaz-Domingues


My OUR Research for the summer of 2017 grant cycle was concerning the Sea Surface Density gradients to Phytoplankton blooms in the North Atlantic. Phytoplankton have an effect on the marine ecosystem and climate change. To show a link in the North Atlantic between surface density of the ocean, its gradi-ents, and phytoplankton blooms (rapid multiplication of phytoplankton) , I analyzed sea surface temperature and chlorophyll gradients taken from the Aqua/MODIS satellite for the years 2011, 2012, and 2013. I sorted each day using an algorithm. Small gaps in the data were filled using interpolation. Contour and gradient plots were used to graphically show the relationship between SST and CHL. A database was created of notable days where the SST and CHL plots showed a strong link between the two. Another algorithm was used to try and showed a trend between SST and CHL values throughout the year of 2013, but the results were inconclusive. Although there are many other factors involved within the ocean that can alter ocean properties in a way that triggers a bloom, such as wind stress, data suggests that there are cases in the North Atlantic in which the CHL growths are predominantly formed by the SST gradients. This topic needs to be further analyzed to determine how frequently this relationship occurs.


Poster of Filliettaz-Domingues’s research on a Remote Sensing Study of the Relationship between Density Fronts and Phytoplankton Blooms in the North Atlantic.




In sum, the objective of the research was to find out how related are the Sea Surface Density gradients and Phytoplankton blooms and whether this relationship is the reason why blooms are seen sometimes earlier compared to other parts of the world than predicted between winter and spring time. Knowing this can help ocean oceanographers to better understand the North Atlantic. Computer simulations was conducted predicting that there is a relationship. And satellite data verified that it is indeed the case. The next step for this research would be to expand on what we found in terms of how frequent these density gradient induced blooms occur.

My research experience during the summer was very informative. It gave me a glimpse into what lab work for Mechanical Engineers who go into physical oceanography would consist of as well as a new perspective on the complexity of ocean mechanics.  I am grateful to the OUR for providing support for this project and to my advisor, Professor Amit Tandon for supervising my research.

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