Marine Biology

, Volume 112, Issue 1, pp 153–164 | Cite as

Alongshore transport of a toxic phytoplankton bloom in a buoyancy current: Alexandrium tamarense in the Gulf of Maine

  • P. J. S. Franks
  • D. M. Anderson


We examined the mechanisms controlling blooms of the toxic dinoflagellate Alexandrium tamarense Lebour and the concomintant patterns of shellfish toxicity in the southwestern Gulf of Maine, USA. During a series of cruises from 1987 to 1989, hydrographic parameters were measured to elucidate the physical factors affecting the distribution and abundance of dinoflagellates along this coast. In 1988 and 1989 when toxicity was detected in the southern part of this region, A. tamarense cells were apparently transported into the area between Portsmouth, New Hampshire, and Cape Ann, Massachusetts, in a coastally trapped buoyant plume. This plume appears to have been formed by the outflow from the Androscoggin and Kennebec Rivers. Flow rates of these rivers, hydrographic sections, and satellite images led us to conclude that the plume persisted for about a month, and extended alongshore for several hundred kilometers. The distribution of cells followed the position of the plume as it was influenced by wind and topography. When winds were downwelling-favorable (to the southwest), cells were moved alongshore to the south, and were held to the coast; when winds were upwelling-favorable (to the northeast),the plume sometimes separated from the coast, advecting the cells offshore. In 1987 when no plume was present, A. tamarense cells were scarce, and no toxicity was recorded at the southern stations. The alongshore advection of toxic cells within a coastally trapped buoyant plume can explain the details of the temporal and spatial patterns of shellfish toxicity along the coast. We hypothesize that (1) the source of the A. tamarense populations is in the north, possibly associated with the Androscoggin and Kennebec estuaries, that (2) toxicity patterns follow a predictable relationship with river flow volume and timing of flow peaks and that (3) wind stresses directly influence the distribution of low salinity water and the dinoflagellate cells. Local, in situ growth of dinoflagellates can be an important factor initiating toxic dinoflagellate blooms. However, these data demonstrate the significant role of alongshore transport of established populations of A. tamarense in controlling the location and timing of paralytic shellfish poisoning (PSP) outbreaks in May and June along the southwestern coast of the Gulf of Maine.


Dinoflagellate Paralytic Shellfish Poisoning Buoyant Plume Toxic Dinoflagellate Alexandrium Tamarense 
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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 1992

Authors and Affiliations

  • P. J. S. Franks
    • 1
  • D. M. Anderson
    • 1
  1. 1.Woods Hole Oceanographic InstitutionWoods HoleUSA

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