Date of Award


Degree Name

Master of Science



First Advisor

Brooks, Marjorie


Chromophoric Dissolved Organic Matter (CDOM) is a substance produced by the planktonic community that naturally blocks biologically damaging, ultraviolet radiation (UV; wavelengths = 280 to 400 nm). While a variety of planktonic species produce CDOM, investigations into the quality and quantity of their CDOM production are few. The purpose of this study was to investigate the properties of CDOM produced by phytoplankton versus zooplankton. Typically, UV radiation breaks down CDOM. However, marine organisms sometimes produce CDOM that, when exposed to sunlight, increases its absorbance of UV radiation. The reasons for this anomaly and the source of this unusual CDOM are unclear. To test for distinctions among sources, filtered water samples from cultures of two marine phytoplankton, Gymnodinium sp. and Dunaliella sp., and a marine copepod, Tigriopus californicus were exposed to sunlight for intervals of 0, 0.5, 1, 2, and 4 hours. The maximal UVB radiation (wavelengths; λ = 280 to 320 nm) was 0.1699 J cm-2. Before and after sunlight exposures, CDOM sources were assessed by comparing absorbance spectra from 184 to 730 nm with detailed comparisons at wavelengths of 254, 305, 320, and 350 nm. Results are expressed as "absorption", which is the raw absorbance converted to the natural log. Before exposure to sunlight, CDOM from algal species had 5- to 8-times higher average absorption values across UV wavelengths than CDOM produced by Tigriopus. CDOM samples produced by phytoplankton were more susceptible to photochemical change than CDOM from Tigriopus. In response to sunlight, CDOM from Gymnodinium varied greatly, increasing in UV absorption in 2 out of 5 replicates but decreasing in absorption in the other replicates. In contrast, peak absorption at λ = 260 nm of CDOM from Dunaliella decreased directionally by an average of 76% in absorption and 75% in specific absorption, and this decrease in absorption was significant (p = 0.03). CDOM from Tigriopus significantly decreased in both absorption (all UV wavelengths, p < 0.01) and "specific absorption", which is absorption standardized per mg of dissolved organic carbon (λ = 320 nm; p < 0.03), but the magnitude of change was only 17%. Thus, photochemical responses of CDOM from the three planktonic sources demonstrated more, consistently less, and unchanged UV absorption. Phytoplankton biomass, which is greater than that of copepods at the next trophic level, likely produce more CDOM but because of greater variability in CDOM absorbance of UV both within and between algal sources, copepods may offer a more stable source of UV protection depending on sunlight exposure and their relative abundance. Definitive conclusions depend on future laboratory studies expanded to more planktonic organisms as well as in situ studies during oceanographic cruises to test the relative contributions of planktonic species.




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