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Regions of milky white seas or "whitings" periodically occur to the west of Andros Island along the Great Bahama Bank where the bottom sediment consists of fine-grained aragonite mud. We present measurements of inherent optical properties within a sediment whiting patch and discuss the potential for monitoring the frequency, extent, and quantity of suspended matter from ocean colour satellite imagery. Sea spectral reflectance measured in situ and remotely from space revealed highly reflective waters elevated across the visible spectrum (i.e., "whitened") with a peak at 490 nm. Particulate backscattering was an order of magnitude higher than that measured at other stations throughout the region. The whiting also had one of the highest backscattering ratios measured in natural waters (0.05-0.06) consistent with water dominated by aragonite particles with a high index of refraction. Regular periodicity of 40 and 212 s evident in the light attenuation coefficient over the sampling period indicated patches of fluctuating turbidity on spatial scales that could be produced from regular rows of Langmuir cells penetrating the 5-m water column. We suggest that previously described mechanisms for sediment resuspension in whitings, such as tidal bursting and fish activity, are not fully consistent with these data and propose that wind-driven Langmuir cells reaching the full-depth of the water column may represent a plausible mechanism for sediment resuspension and subsequent whiting formation. Optics and remote sensing provide important tools for quantifying the linkages between physical and biogeochemical processes in these dynamic shallow water ecosystems.

Original Publication Citation

Dierssen, H.M., Zimmerman, R.C., & Burdige, D.J. (2009). Optics and remote sensing of Bahamian carbonate sediment whitings and potential relationship to wind-driven Langmuir circulation. Biogeosciences, 6(3), 487-500.