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Opt Express. 2010 Jul 5;18(14):15073-93. doi: 10.1364/OE.18.015073.

Spectral backscattering properties of marine phytoplankton cultures.

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  • 1Oregon State University, College of Oceanic & Atmospheric Sciences, 104 COAS Admin. Bldg., Corvallis, OR 97331, USA.


The backscattering properties of marine phytoplankton, which are assumed to vary widely with differences in size, shape, morphology and internal structure, have been directly measured in the laboratory on a very limited basis. This work presents results from laboratory analysis of the backscattering properties of thirteen phytoplankton species from five major taxa. Optical measurements include portions of the volume scattering function (VSF) and the absorption and attenuation coefficients at nine wavelengths. The VSF was used to obtain the backscattering coefficient for each species, and we focus on intra- and interspecific variability in spectral backscattering in this work. Ancillary measurements included chlorophyll-a concentration, cell concentration, and cell size, shape and morphology via microscopy for each culture. We found that the spectral backscattering properties of phytoplankton deviate from theory at wavelengths where pigment absorption is significant. We were unable to detect an effect of cell size on the spectral shape of backscattering, but we did find a relationship between cell size and both the backscattering ratio and backscattering cross-section. While particulate backscattering at 555 nm was well correlated to chlorophyll-a concentration for any given species, the relationship was highly variable between species. Results from this work indicate that phytoplankton cells may backscatter light at significantly higher efficiencies than what is predicted by Mie theory, which has important implications for closing the underwater and remotely sensed light budget.

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