The South China Sea is an oligotrophic marginal sea located in the tropical-subtropical Northwestern Pacific Ocean. Under the influences of monsoon winds, both the physical and biogeochemical processes exhibit distinct seasonal variability in the upper waters. In order to study the seasonal variations of surface phytoplankton, a one-dimensional coupled physical-biogeochemical model was developed and applied to the deep basins of the Northern South China Sea, away from the coastal upwelling regions. Forced under real-time surface monsoon winds and heat flux, the model reproduced the mixed layer depth, sea surface temperature and surface chlorophyll-a compared with satellite observations and previous reported values. In seasonal mean, the mixed layer depth was highest in winter (∼61.62 m) and lowest in spring (∼12.07 m). The sea surface temperature was lowest (∼25.05°C) in winter and highest (∼29.20°C) in summer. Furthermore, conspicuous phytoplankton blooms occurred in winter with the highest chlorophyll-a concentration up to ∼0.21 mg m−3. In other seasons, the concentration remained relatively low, especially in summer (∼0.05 mg m−3). The spatial distributions of phytoplankton were closely related with patterns of surface nutrient availability, as well as mixed layer depth and sea surface temperature. These relationships indicate that surface phytoplankton primary production was mainly controlled by nutrient availability, which was dominated by vertical turbulent diffusion in the deep basin of the northern Sea which is away from the coastal upwelling regions. Overall, our model results indicated that the seasonal variability of surface phytoplankton was modulated by coupled effects of physical and biogeochemical processes in the Northern South China Sea.

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