The role of phytoplankton in determining the underwater light climate in Lake Constance

Max M. Tilzer, Noga Stambler, Charlotte Lovengreen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

19 Scopus citations


At all seasons, the underwater light field of meso-eutrophic large (480 km2) deep (mean: 100 m) Lake Constance was studied in conjunction with the assessments of vertical distributions of phytoplankton chlorophyll concentrations. Vertical profiles of scalar, downwelling and upwelling fluxes of photosynthetically available radiation, as well as fluxes of spectral irradiance between 400 and 700 nm wavelength were measured. The overall transparency of the water for PAR is highly dependent on chlorophyll concentration. However, the spectral composition of underwater light is narrowing with water depth regardless of phytoplankton biomass. Green light is transmitted best, even at extremely low chlorophyll concentrations. This is explained by the selective absorption of blue light by dissolved organic substances and red light by the water molecules. Nevertheless, significant correlations were found between vertical attenuation coefficients of downwelling spectral irradiance and chlorophyll concentrations at all wavelengths. The slopes of the regression lines were used as estimates of chlorophyll-specific spectral vertical light attenuation coefficients (Kc(λ)). The proportions of total upwelling relative to total downwelling irradiance (reflectance) increased with water depth, even when phytoplankton were homogeneously distributed over the water column. Under such conditions, reflectance of monochromatic light remained constant. Lower reflectance of PAR in shallow water is explained by smaller bandwidths of upwelling relative to downwelling light near the water surface. In deeper water, by contrast, the spectra of both upwelling and downwelling irradiance are narrowed to the most penetrating components in the green spectral range. Reflectance of PAR was significantly correlated with chlorophyll concentration and varied from ∼ 1% and ∼1-% at low and high phytoplankton biomass, respectively. Over the spectrum, reflectance exhibited a maximum in the green range. Moreover, in deeper layers, a red maximum was observed which is attributed to natural fluorescence by phytoplankton chlorophyll.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)161-172
Number of pages12
Issue number3
StatePublished - 1 Dec 1995
Externally publishedYes


  • Lake Constance
  • spectral water transparency
  • underwater light field

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Aquatic Science


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