- Journal Article
Authors' Summary: Phytoplankton contribute roughly half of the photosynthesis on earth and fuel fisheries around the globe. Yet, few direct measurements of phytoplankton concentration are available. Frequently, concentrations of phytoplankton are instead estimated using the optical properties of water. Backscattering is one of these optical properties, representing the light being scattered backwards. Previous studies have suggested that backscattering could be a good method to estimate phytoplankton concentration. However, other particles that are present in the ocean also contribute to backscattering.
In this paper we examine how well backscattering can be used to estimate phytoplankton. To address this question, we use data from drifting instruments that are spread across the ocean and a computer model that simulates phytoplankton and backscattering over the global oceans.
We find that by using backscattering, phytoplankton can be overestimated/underestimated on average by ∼20%. This error differs between regions, and can be larger than 100% at high latitudes. Computer simulations allowed us to quantify spatial and temporal variability in backscattering signal composition, and thereby understand potential errors in inferring phytoplankton with backscattering, which could not have been done before due to the lack of phytoplankton data.