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Alice Della Penna

Postdoctoral Scholar






Alice Della Penna was appointed Lecturer at the University of Aukland in fall 2020.


B.S. Physics, University of Turin, 2010

M.S. Physics of Complex Systems, University of Turin, 2012

Ph.D. Interdisciplinary Approaches to Life Sciences, Paris Diderot University, 2016

Ph.D. Quantitative Marine Science, University of Tasmania, 2016

Alice Della Penna's Website



2000-present and while at APL-UW

Mesoscale eddies structure mesopelagic communities

Della Penna, A., and P. Gaube, "Mesoscale eddies structure mesopelagic communities," Front. Mar. Sci., 7, 454, doi:10.3389/fmars.2020.00454, 2020.

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8 Jul 2020

Mesoscale eddies play a key role in structuring open ocean ecosystems, affecting the entire trophic web from primary producers to large pelagic predators including sharks and elephant seals. Recent advances in the tracking of pelagic predators have revealed that these animals forage in the mesopelagic and the depth and duration of their foraging dives are affected by the presence of eddies. The ways in which eddies impact the distribution of mesopelagic micronekton, however, remain largely unknown. During a multi-seasonal experiment we used a shipboard scientific echosounder transmitting at 38 kHz to observe the distribution of acoustic backscattering in the energetic mesoscale eddy field of the northwestern Atlantic. Observations were collected at 24 stations with 6 located in anticyclonic and 7 in cyclonic eddies. The sampled anticyclonic eddies are characterized by intense acoustic backscattering in the mesopelagic and changes in the intensity of acoustic backscattering layers match gradients of surface properties. Furthermore, mesopelagic daytime backscattering is positively correlated with sea level anomaly. These results suggest that anticyclonic eddies in the northwestern Atlantic impact the distribution of mesopelagic micronekton and may have the potential to locally enhance or structure spatially mesopelagic communities.

Shifts in phytoplankton community structure across an anticyclonic eddy revealed from high spectral resolution lidar scattering measurements

Schulien, J.A., A. Della Penna, P. Gaube, A.P. Chase, N. Haëntjens, J.R. Graff, J.W. Hair, C.A. Hostetler, A.J. Scarino, E.S. Boss, L. Karp-Boss, and M.J. Behrenfeld, "Shifts in phytoplankton community structure across an anticyclonic eddy revealed from high spectral resolution lidar scattering measurements," Front. Mar. Sci., 7, doi:10.3389/fmars.2020.00493, 2020.

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30 Jun 2020

Changes in airborne high spectral resolution lidar (HSRL) measurements of scattering, depolarization, and attenuation coincided with a shift in phytoplankton community composition across an anticyclonic eddy in the North Atlantic. We normalized the total depolarization ratio (δ) by the particulate backscattering coefficient (bbp) to account for the covariance in δ and bbp that has been attributed to multiple scattering. A 15% increase in δ/bbp inside the eddy coincided with decreased phytoplankton biomass and a shift to smaller and more elongated phytoplankton cells. Taxonomic changes (reduced dinoflagellate relative abundance inside the eddy) were also observed. The δ signal is thus potentially most sensitive to changes in phytoplankton shape because neither the observed change in the particle size distribution (PSD) nor refractive index (assuming average refractive indices) are consistent with previous theoretical modeling results. We additionally calculated chlorophyll-a (Chl) concentrations from measurements of the diffuse light attenuation coefficient (Kd) and divided by bbp to evaluate another optical metric of phytoplankton community composition (Chl:bbp), which decreased by more than a factor of two inside the eddy. This case study demonstrates that the HSRL is able to detect changes in phytoplankton community composition. High spectral resolution lidar measurements reveal complex structures in both the vertical and horizontal distribution of phytoplankton in the mixed layer providing a valuable new tool to support other remote sensing techniques for studying mixed layer dynamics. Our results identify fronts at the periphery of mesoscale eddies as locations of abrupt changes in near-surface optical properties.

Small phytoplankton dominate western North Atlantic biomass

Bolaños, L.M., and 15 others including A. Della Penna and P. Gaube, "Small phytoplankton dominate western North Atlantic biomass," ISME J., 14, 1663-1674, doi:10.1038/s41396-020-0636-0, 2020.

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30 Mar 2020

The North Atlantic phytoplankton spring bloom is the pinnacle in an annual cycle that is driven by physical, chemical, and biological seasonality. Despite its important contributions to the global carbon cycle, transitions in plankton community composition between the winter and spring have been scarcely examined in the North Atlantic. Phytoplankton composition in early winter was compared with latitudinal transects that captured the subsequent spring bloom climax. Amplicon sequence variants (ASVs), imaging flow cytometry, and flow-cytometry provided a synoptic view of phytoplankton diversity. Phytoplankton communities were not uniform across the sites studied, but rather mapped with apparent fidelity onto subpolar- and subtropical-influenced water masses of the North Atlantic. At most stations, cells < 20-μm diameter were the main contributors to phytoplankton biomass. Winter phytoplankton communities were dominated by cyanobacteria and pico-phytoeukaryotes. These transitioned to more diverse and dynamic spring communities in which pico- and nano-phytoeukaryotes, including many prasinophyte algae, dominated. Diatoms, which are often assumed to be the dominant phytoplankton in blooms, were contributors but not the major component of biomass. We show that diverse, small phytoplankton taxa are unexpectedly common in the western North Atlantic and that regional influences play a large role in modulating community transitions during the seasonal progression of blooms.

More Publications

Acoustics Air-Sea Interaction & Remote Sensing Center for Environmental & Information Systems Center for Industrial & Medical Ultrasound Electronic & Photonic Systems Ocean Engineering Ocean Physics Polar Science Center