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Unusual large-scale phytoplankton blooms in the equatorial Pacific

journal contribution
posted on 2023-05-20, 13:47 authored by Ryan, JP, Polito, PS, Peter StruttonPeter Strutton, Chavez, FP
Unusual large-scale accumulations of phytoplankton occurred across 10,000 km of the equatorial Pacific during the 1998 transition from El Niño to La Niña. The forcing and dynamics of these phytoplankton blooms were studied using satellite-based observations of sea surface height, temperature and chlorophyll, and mooring-based observations of winds, hydrography and ocean currents. During the bloom period, the thermocline (nutricline) was anomalously shallow across the equatorial Pacific. The relative importance of processes that enhanced nutrient flux into the euphotic zone differed between the western and eastern regions of the blooms. In the western bloom region, the important vertical processes were turbulent vertical mixing and wind-driven upwelling. In contrast, the important processes in the eastern bloom region were wave-forced shoaling of nutrient source waters directly into the euphotic zone, along-isopycnal upwelling, and wind-driven upwelling. Advection by the Equatorial Undercurrent spread the largest bloom 4500 km east of where it began, and advection by meridional currents of tropical instability waves transported the bloom hundreds of kilometers north and south of the equator. Many processes influenced the intricate development of these massive biological events. Diverse observations and novel analysis methods of this work advance the conceptual framework for understanding the complex dynamics and ecology of the equatorial Pacific.


Publication title

Progress in Oceanography










Institute for Marine and Antarctic Studies


Pergamon-Elsevier Science Ltd

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The Boulevard, Langford Lane, Kidlington, Oxford, England, Ox5 1Gb

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Copyright 2002 Elsevier Science Ltd. All rights reserved.

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Expanding knowledge in the earth sciences

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