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Ash Deposition Triggers Phytoplankton Blooms at Nishinoshima Volcano, Japan

Kelly, L. J., K. Fauria, T. Mittal, J. E. Kassar, R. Bennartz, D. Nicholson, A. Subramaniam, and A. K. Gupta (2024), Ash Deposition Triggers Phytoplankton Blooms at Nishinoshima Volcano, Japan, Geochem., Geophys., Geosyst..

Volcanoes that deposit eruptive products into the ocean can trigger phytoplankton blooms near the deposition area. Phytoplankton blooms impact the global carbon cycle, but the specific conditions and mechanisms that facilitate volcanically triggered blooms are not well understood, especially in low nutrient ocean regions. We use satellite remote sensing to analyze the chlorophyll response to an 8-month period of explosive and effusive activity from Nishinoshima volcano, Japan. Nishinoshima is an ocean island volcano in a low nutrient low chlorophyll region of the Northern Pacific Ocean. From June to August 2020, during explosive activity, satellite-derived chlorophyll-a was detectable with amplitudes significantly above the longterm climatological value. After the explosive activity ceased in mid-August 2020, these areas of heightened chlorophyll concentration decreased as well. In addition, we used aerial observations and satellite imagery to demonstrate a spatial correlation between blooms and ash plume direction. Using a sun-induced chlorophyll-a fluorescence satellite product, we confirmed that the observed chlorophyll blooms are phytoplankton blooms. Based on an understanding of the nutrients needed to supply blooms, we hypothesize that blooms of nitrogen-fixing phytoplankton led to a 10 10–10 12 g drawdown of carbon. Thus, the bloom could have significantly mediated the output of carbon from the explosive phase of the eruption but is a small fraction of anthropogenic CO2 stored in the ocean or the global biological pump. Overall, we provide a case study of fertilization of a nutrient-poor ocean with volcanic ash and demonstrate a scenario where multi-month scale deposition triggers continuous phytoplankton blooms across 1,000s of km 2. Plain Language Summary Volcanic eruptions can cause organisms known as phytoplankton to multiply and form what is known as a phytoplankton bloom in the ocean. Phytoplankton blooms can impact the life cycle of carbon in the earth system, but it is not always obvious why phytoplankton blooms happen. Using different satellite data, we observe phytoplankton blooms by viewing chlorophyll concentration in the ocean. Nishinoshima is a remote volcano in an area of the Pacific that lacks nutrients necessary for phytoplankton blooms. Nishinoshima erupted in 2019–2020 and deposited lava and ash into the ocean at different times. By looking at the chlorophyll concentration during the time periods lava and ash were deposited into the ocean, we found that chlorophyll concentration increased when ash was deposited into the ocean. These increases in chlorophyll concentration were determined to be phytoplankton blooms. These phytoplankton blooms may utilize nutrients from volcanic ash and the atmosphere, leading to a drawdown of atmospheric carbon.

Research Program: 
Earth Surface & Interior Program (ESI)
Funding Sources: 
NASA ROSES Grant 80NSSC20K1450