Document Type


Publication Date



Department of Geological and Mining Engineering and Sciences


We present a numerical model of the ocean that couples a three-stream radiative transfer component with a marine biogeochemical-ecosystem component in a dynamic three-dimensional physical framework. The radiative transfer component resolves the penetration of spectral irradiance as it is absorbed and scattered within the water column. We explicitly include the effect of several optically important water constituents (different phytoplankton functional types; detrital particles; and coloured dissolved organic matter, CDOM). The model is evaluated against in situ-observed and satellite-derived products. In particular we compare to concurrently measured biogeochemical, ecosystem, and optical data along a meridional transect of the Atlantic Ocean. The simulation captures the patterns and magnitudes of these data, and estimates surface upwelling irradiance analogous to that observed by ocean colour satellite instruments. We find that incorporating the different optically important constituents explicitly and including spectral irradiance was crucial to capture the variability in the depth of the subsurface chlorophyll a (Chl a) maximum. We conduct a series of sensitivity experiments to demonstrate, globally, the relative importance of each of the water constituents, as well as the crucial feedbacks between the light field, the relative fitness of phytoplankton types, and the biogeochemistry of the ocean. CDOM has proportionally more importance at attenuating light at short wavelengths and in more productive waters, phytoplankton absorption is relatively more important at the subsurface Chl a maximum, and water molecules have the greatest contribution when concentrations of other constituents are low, such as in the oligotrophic gyres. Scattering had less effect on attenuation, but since it is important for the amount and type of upwelling irradiance, it is crucial for setting sea surface reflectance. Strikingly, sensitivity experiments in which absorption by any of the optical constituents was increased led to a decrease in the size of the oligotrophic regions of the subtropical gyres: lateral nutrient supplies were enhanced as a result of decreasing high-latitude productivity. This new model that captures bio-optical feedbacks will be important for improving our understanding of the role of light and optical constituents on ocean biogeochemistry, especially in a changing environment. Further, resolving surface upwelling irradiance will make it easier to connect to satellite-derived products in the future.

Publisher's Statement

© Author(s) 2015. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License. Publisher’s version of record:

Publication Title


Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License.


Publisher's PDF



To view the content in your browser, please download Adobe Reader or, alternately,
you may Download the file to your hard drive.

NOTE: The latest versions of Adobe Reader do not support viewing PDF files within Firefox on Mac OS and if you are using a modern (Intel) Mac, there is no official plugin for viewing PDF files within the browser window.