We report spatial variability of oceanic phycoerythrin spectral types detected by means of a blue spectral shift in airborne laser-induced fluorescence emission. The blue shift of the phycoerythrobilin fluorescence is known from laboratory studies to be induced by phycourobilin chromophore substitution at phycoerythrobilin chromophore sites in some strains of phycoerythrin-containing marine cyanobacteria. The airborne 532-nm laser-induced phycoerythrin fluorescence of the upper oceanic volume showed distinct segregation of cyanobacterial chromophore types in a flight transect from coastal water to the Sargasso Sea in the western North Atlantic. High phycourobilin levels were restricted to the oceanic (oligotrophic) end of the flight transect, in agreement with historical ship findings. These remotely observed phycoerythrin spectral fluorescence shifts have the potential to permit rapid, wide-area studies of the spatial variability of spectrally distinct cyanobacteria, especially across interfacial regions of coastal and oceanic water masses. Airborne laser-induced phytoplankton spectral fluorescence observations also further the development of satellite algorithms for passive detection of phytoplankton pigments. Optical modifications to the NASA Airborne Oceanographic Lidar are briefly described that permitted observation of the fluorescence spectral shifts.
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