Diatom cells have distinctive optical characteristics, originating from their relatively large cell size, fucoxanthin content and silica cell wall. It has been proposed that diatom-dominated phytoplankton blooms can be identified by optical remote sensing and that specifically tuned chlorophyll and primary production algorithms should be applied in regions where these blooms are present. However there have been few studies on how the optical properties of diatom blooms change as they progress from active growth to senescence, and it is unlikely that measurements on laboratory cultures encompass the full range of physiological states found in natural waters. We have therefore examined the inherent optical properties (IOPs) of the waters around the island of South Georgia at the end of the spring diatom bloom. Considerable variability was found in the relationships between the inherent optical properties and analytically determined chlorophyll a concentrations even in the surface layer, which meant that the usual bio-optical assumptions for Case 1 waters did not apply. To account for this variability, phytoplankton absorption and scattering were modeled as a two-component mixture, with the components representing actively growing and senescent material. The specific inherent optical properties of the two components were derived by linear regression of total IOPs against chlorophyll concentration and a fraction of the suspended mineral concentration. These specific IOPs were used to develop radiative transfer models of diatom blooms in varying stages of growth and senescence. Remote sensing reflectances calculated using this technique confirmed the tendency of the standard algorithms employed in SeaWiFS, MODIS and MERIS data processing to under-estimate near-surface chlorophyll concentrations in diatom blooms. However the inclusion of increasing proportions of senescent material had a significant effect on algorithm performance only at chlorophyll concentrations below 10 mg m(-3). Optical depths predicted by the model around South Georgia were 9+/-2 m at 512 nm, indicating that a large fraction of the phytoplankton biomass was located below the depth from which the remote sensing signals originated. (C) 2011 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved
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