Résumé : The Belgian Coastal Zone (BCZ) in the Southern Bight of the North Sea is a highly dynamic and optically complex area. This is due to high non-algal particles (NAP) and coloured dissolved organic matter (CDOM) content which in spring adds together with undesirable blooms of the haptophyte Phaeocystis globosa. There is a need for improving the algorithms for chlorophyll a (chl a) retrieval in these highly turbid waters and for developing algorithms for species detection in order to attempt to create an early warning bloom system. This information will contribute to the knowledge of the extent and magnitude of the P. globosa bloom in Belgian waters. In this study, pure cultures of the main taxa present in the BCZ, diatoms and P. globosa, were combined with field measurements of light absorption of total particles, phytoplankton and dissolved material, pigment determination and phytoplankton counts to address the main objectives. Sampling was performed during 8 cruises covering winter, spring, summer and late summer, and along nearshore-offshore gradients from 2003 to 2006.

The area is characterised by a high spatio-temporal variability of IOPs due to the high dynamics of the area in terms of currents, salinity gradients and biological production. During spring the presence of P. globosa modulates the IOPs across all the area, the particle absorption is significantly higher than summer and there is no significant coast-offshore variability for phytoplankton and CDOM.

The design of chl a retrieval algorithms assumes negligible absorption of NAP and CDOM in the near infrared (NIR) and the use of a fixed value of specific phytoplankton absorption. It is shown that neglecting the NAP and CDOM absorption in the NIR will have a significant overestimation impact in retrieval of chl a. On the other hand, the specific phytoplankton absorption was found to be highly variable (0.015 „b 0.011 m2 mg chl a-1). Both results will affect directly the retrieved chl a. The spatial variability of CDOM was significant varying between 0.20-1.31 m-1 in the marine area and between 1.81-4.29 m-1 in the Scheldt estuary. CDOM was found to be related to salinity with conservative mixing within the Scheldt estuary and during some seasons in the BCZ, however deviations from conservative mixing suggest other inputs to the CDOM pool. Analyses of the spectral slope of the CDOM absorption curve revealed two main CDOM pools in the area, an allochthonous one delivered by the Scheldt estuary and an autochthonous one associated with the phytoplankton spring bloom decomposition. Algorithms for CDOM retrieval will be affected if the variability in the relation between CDOM and salinity is not taken into account.

The optical characterisation of diatoms and P. globosa from the BCZ in pure cultures revealed that the main differences in the phytoplankton absorption spectra were found at 467 and 500 nm corresponding to the absorption of the pigments chlorophyll c3 (chl c3) characteristic of P. globosa and fucoxanthin, respectively. Accordingly, both the absorption at 467 nm and the ratio 500/467 nm were successfully used to discriminate the two taxa in cultures and field samples. This latter indicator was not preserved in the reflectance signal due to degradation of the signal when passing from absorption to reflectance, and thus could not be used for algorithm development. The spectral feature at 467 nm was later used as the basis for the development of a flag-type algorithm to detect chl c3 using either absorption or water-leaving reflectance data. Also, the correlation between the algorithm¡¦s retrieved chl c3 and P. globosa cell number allowed the quantification of the bloom. The main findings of this thesis highlight the importance of the IOPs characterisation for the improvement and development of ocean colour retrieval algorithms in these highly complex waters.