Emergent patterns of patchiness reflect decoupling between ocean physics and biology

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While a rich history of patchiness research has explored spatial structure in the ocean, there is still no consensus over the controls on biological patchiness and how biogeochemical processes and patchiness relate. The prevailing thought is that physics structures biology, but this has not been tested at the basin scale with consistent in situ measurements. Here we show that the patchiness of physics and biology are decoupled at the global scale through analysis of a global dataset of in situ surface optical properties from the S/V Tara and using the slope of spatial scale vs variance to quantify patchiness. Based on analysis of ∼650,000 nearly continuous (dx∼150m) measurements from an underway sampling system - representing five years of consistently collected data across the Atlantic, Pacific, and Southern Oceans - we find the patchiness of physical and biological parameters are uncorrelated. We show that variance slope is an emergent property with unique patterns in biogeochemical properties that are distinct from physical tracers, yet connected to other biological tracers. These results provide context for decades of discrepancy between in situ studies, could support new tests of biogeochemical model parameterizations, and open the way for new insight into processes regulating the observed patterns.

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