The fate of photons absorbed by phytoplankton in the global ocean

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Science  07 Jan 2016:
DOI: 10.1126/science.aab2213

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Solar radiation absorbed by marine phytoplankton can follow three possible paths. By simultaneously measuring the quantum yields of photochemistry and chlorophyll fluorescence in situ, we calculate that, on average, ~60% of absorbed photons are converted to heat, while only 35% are directed toward photochemical water splitting and the rest are re-emitted as fluorescence. The spatial pattern of fluorescence yields and lifetimes strongly suggests that photochemical energy conversion is physiologically limited by nutrients. Comparison of in situ fluorescence lifetimes with satellite retrievals of solar induced fluorescence yields suggest that the mean values of the latter are generally representative of the photophysiological state of phytoplankton, however the signal to noise ratio is unacceptably low in extremely oligotrophic regions, which comprise 30% of the open ocean.

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