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The Warming of the California Current System: Dynamics and Ecosystem Implications

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  • 1 Scripps Institution of Oceanography, University of California, San Diego, La Jolla, California
  • | 2 International Pacific Research Center, University of Hawaii at Manoa, Honolulu, Hawaii
  • | 3 Institute of Geophysics and Planetary Physics, University of California, Los Angeles, Los Angeles, California
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Abstract

Long-term changes in the observed temperature and salinity along the southern California coast are studied using a four-dimensional space–time analysis of the 52-yr (1949–2000) California Cooperative Oceanic Fisheries Investigations (CalCOFI) hydrography combined with a sensitivity analysis of an eddy-permitting primitive equation ocean model under various forcing scenarios. An overall warming trend of 1.3°C in the ocean surface, a deepening in the depth of the mean thermocline (18 m), and increased stratification between 1950 and 1999 are found to be primarily forced by large-scale decadal fluctuations in surface heat fluxes combined with horizontal advection by the mean currents. After 1998 the surface heat fluxes suggest the beginning of a period of cooling, consistent with colder observed ocean temperatures. Salinity changes are decoupled from temperature and appear to be controlled locally in the coastal ocean by horizontal advection by anomalous currents. A cooling trend of –0.5°C in SST is driven in the ocean model by the 50-yr NCEP wind reanalysis, which contains a positive trend in upwelling-favorable winds along the southern California coast. A net warming trend of +1°C in SST occurs, however, when the effects of observed surface heat fluxes are included as forcing functions in the model. Within 50–100 km of the coast, the ocean model simulations show that increased stratification/deepening of the thermocline associated with the warming reduces the efficiency of coastal upwelling in advecting subsurface waters to the ocean surface, counteracting any effects of the increased strength of the upwelling winds. Such a reduction in upwelling efficiency leads in the model to a freshening of surface coastal waters. Because salinity and nutrients at the coast have similar distributions this must reflect a reduction of the nutrient supply at the coast, which is manifestly important in explaining the observed decline in zooplankton concentration. The increased winds also drive an intensification of the mean currents of the southern California Current System (SCCS). Model mesoscale eddy variance significantly increases in recent decades in response to both the stronger upwelling winds and the warmer upper-ocean temperatures, suggesting that the stability properties of the SCCS have also changed.

Corresponding author address: Emanuele Di Lorenzo, School of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences, Georgia Institute of Technology, Atlanta, GA 30332-0340. Email: edl@eas.gatech.edu

Abstract

Long-term changes in the observed temperature and salinity along the southern California coast are studied using a four-dimensional space–time analysis of the 52-yr (1949–2000) California Cooperative Oceanic Fisheries Investigations (CalCOFI) hydrography combined with a sensitivity analysis of an eddy-permitting primitive equation ocean model under various forcing scenarios. An overall warming trend of 1.3°C in the ocean surface, a deepening in the depth of the mean thermocline (18 m), and increased stratification between 1950 and 1999 are found to be primarily forced by large-scale decadal fluctuations in surface heat fluxes combined with horizontal advection by the mean currents. After 1998 the surface heat fluxes suggest the beginning of a period of cooling, consistent with colder observed ocean temperatures. Salinity changes are decoupled from temperature and appear to be controlled locally in the coastal ocean by horizontal advection by anomalous currents. A cooling trend of –0.5°C in SST is driven in the ocean model by the 50-yr NCEP wind reanalysis, which contains a positive trend in upwelling-favorable winds along the southern California coast. A net warming trend of +1°C in SST occurs, however, when the effects of observed surface heat fluxes are included as forcing functions in the model. Within 50–100 km of the coast, the ocean model simulations show that increased stratification/deepening of the thermocline associated with the warming reduces the efficiency of coastal upwelling in advecting subsurface waters to the ocean surface, counteracting any effects of the increased strength of the upwelling winds. Such a reduction in upwelling efficiency leads in the model to a freshening of surface coastal waters. Because salinity and nutrients at the coast have similar distributions this must reflect a reduction of the nutrient supply at the coast, which is manifestly important in explaining the observed decline in zooplankton concentration. The increased winds also drive an intensification of the mean currents of the southern California Current System (SCCS). Model mesoscale eddy variance significantly increases in recent decades in response to both the stronger upwelling winds and the warmer upper-ocean temperatures, suggesting that the stability properties of the SCCS have also changed.

Corresponding author address: Emanuele Di Lorenzo, School of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences, Georgia Institute of Technology, Atlanta, GA 30332-0340. Email: edl@eas.gatech.edu

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