Graduation Year


Document Type




Degree Granting Department

Marine Science

Major Professor

Gabriel A. Vargo, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Karen A. Steidinger, Ph.D.

Committee Member

John J. Walsh, Ph.D.


Algal Biomass, Chlorophyll a, Pigments, Phytoplankton, Variability


The West Florida Shelf (WFS), typically characterized as being oligotrophic, is one of the most productive continental shelves in the United States. In addition to supporting a large fishing industry, the WFS also supports high biomass blooms of the toxic dinoflagellate Karenia brevis. Because of the large ecological and economic impacts these blooms have on the area, the ECOHAB: Florida program was developed to gain a better understanding of red tides and their initiation, maintenance, and dispersal. This interdisciplinary program consisted of monthly cruises from June 1998 through December 2001, with a hiatus from January through March of 2001. Hydrography, nutrients, chlorophyll a, phaeopigments, and a wide variety of other factors were measured during the cruises. In this paper chlorophyll a and phaeopigment concentration, nutrients, and hydrographic data were examined to explain the temporal and spatial distribution of chlorophyll on the shelf. Average surface chlorophyll values were 0.55 mg/m3 with near bottom values averaging 0.85 mg/m3 . Chlorophyll was found to be highest near the estuaries of Tampa Bay and Charlotte Harbor with a decreasing gradient seaward. Near bottom chlorophyll values were generally two to fourfold greater than surface values. Midshelf stations (35- 50 m) were characterized by high near bottom chlorophyll, whereas the offshore stations viii (86-200 m) were characterized by a subsurface chlorophyll maximum ranging between 40 to 80 m deep. Nutrients were generally low across the shelf except for 1998 when a subsurface intrusion of nutrient rich slope water reached to the 20 m isobath. Temperatures ranged from 14.00˚ C to 31.47˚ C. Salinity ranged from 30.5 to 37.50 in the study area. Four blooms of Karenia brevis, lasting several months, contributed to the high chlorophyll concentrations along the inner shelf. Maximum chlorophyll concentrations of 27.10 mg/m3 were a result of the October 1999 to March 2000 red tide. Blooms of Trichodesmium and diatoms also were contributors to patterns seen on the shelf. Maximum chlorophyll values were generally highest in the late summer and fall except for offshore values which showed little to no seasonality. Inshore of the 50 m isobath, average phaeopigments comprised from 43 to 68 percent of the measured Chl a, while offshore values were from 68 to over 100 percent. Inshore chlorophyll distributions were attributed to riverine and estuarine flux of nutrients, localized upwelling, and recycling of nutrients aided by salinity and temperature fronts. Midshelf distributions were attributed to the movement of biologically important material through the bottom Ekman layer from offshore to the inshore regions of the shelf. Offshore distributions were attributed to Loop Current upwelling and synoptic scale processes associated with seasonal meteorological forcing.