Phytoplankton induced changes of air bubble residence time in seawater
Air bubbles in the ocean, naturally induced by breaking waves or artificially entrained by ships, remain in the water for different periods of time. Knowledge of the factors accounting for the differences in air bubble residence time (BRT) is essential for understanding processes of air sea-gas exchange as well as for the detection of underwater ship wakes in defence applications. Reasons for the differences in BRT have been found mainly with respect to physical and chemical properties of seawater, such as temperature, salinity and gas saturation level. The impact of biological factors on the behaviour of air bubbles in seawater has not previously been investigated. It is hypothesised that phytoplankton influence BRT through the production of dissolved organic material (DOM) and oxygen. Laboratory experiments were carried out in a seawater mesocosm tank system to investigate the influence of phytoplankton growth on the BRT of artificially injected air bubbles of a wide size range (10-1000 µm diameter) using both natural phytoplankton populations from Kiel Firth and phytoplankton monocultures. BRT was determined acoustically and several phytoplankton growth-related parameters (chlorophyll concentration, dissolved inorganic nutrients, dissolved organic carbon (DOC), oxygen saturation, bacteria numbers) as well as physico-chemical parameters (surface tension and viscosity) were monitored. BRT showed statistically significant covariation with oxygen saturation and chlorophyll a concentration during phytoplankton growth periods in the tank. Increases in BRT of a factor of > 2 were found during the chlorophyll maxima, provided that the water was sufficiently supersaturated with oxygen (~>110%). When the seawater was undersaturated with oxygen, BRT changed only marginally regardless of the chlorophyll a concentration. No clear relationship was evident between BRT and measurements of DOC, surface tension and viscosity. Investigations of the influence of dissolved oxygen on BRT through variation of oxygen saturation of deionised water showed that oxygen saturation alone has no apparent effect on BRT. The influence of phytoplankton on the rheological properties of an air/water interface was investigated in small scale experiments using different phytoplankton monocultures. An increase in surface shear viscosity was detected for only one of the four species of microalgae tested, Nitzschia closterium. Dependency of BRT on the combination of oxygen supersaturation and other phytoplankton growth-related parameters are discussed.