Productivity of dinoflagellate blooms on the west coast of South Africa, as measured by natural fluorescence

  • BA Mitchell-Innes
  • GC Pitcher
  • TA Probyn


The biomass and productivity of phytoplankton populations inshore on the west coast of South Africa were investigated towards the end of the upwelling season, a period when high-biomass dinoflagellate blooms are
common. Productivity was estimated from natural fluorescence measurements (PNF), using photosynthesis (P) v. irradiance (E) relationships (PE) and by means of the in situ 14C-method (PC). A linear regression of PNF productivity against PC and PE productivities yielded a slope of 0.911 and an r2 of 0.83 (n = 41). Physical and biological variability was high inshore, reflecting alternating periods of upwelling and quiescence. Mean chlorophyll inshore (within a 12 m water column) ranged from 0.7 to 57.8 (mean = 8.9) mg.m-3, mean PNF productivity ranged from 8.4 to 51.0 (mean = 24.6) mgC.m-3.h-1 and daily integral PNF productivity from 0.8 to 4.8 (mean = 2.3) Transects sampled during active and relaxation phases of upwelling had different chlorophyll distributions. High chlorophyll concentrations (sometimes >50 mg.m-3) were associated with surface blooms within the region of the upwelling front. Estimates of daily water-column PNF productivity within these frontal blooms ranged from 4.0 to 5.6 With relaxation of wind stress, blooms dominated by dinoflagellates flooded shorewards and often formed red tides. Chlorophyll concentrations of
>175 mg.m-3 and productivity rates > 500 mgC.m-3.h-1 and 12 were measured during a particularly intense red tide. Offshore, the water column was highly stratified with a well-defined subsurface chlorophyll maximum layer within the pycnocline region. Estimates of daily water-column PNF productivity ranged from
2.4 to 4.0 offshore. The high productivity of shelf waters on the West Coast in late summer can be ascribed largely to dinoflagellate populations and their success in both upwelling systems and stratified conditions.

Journal Identifiers

eISSN: 1814-2338
print ISSN: 1814-232X