McGowan, J. A., S. J. Bograd, R. J. Lynn and A. J. Miller, 2003:

The biological response to the 1977 regime shift in the California Current.

Deep-Sea Research,50, 2567-2582.

Abstract. Among the least understood interactions between physics and biology in the oceans are those that take place on the decadal scale. But this temporal scale is important because some of the greatest ecological events take place on this time scale. More than 50 years of measurement in the California Current System have revealed significant ecosystem changes, including a large, decadal decline in zooplankton biomass, along with a rise in upper-ocean temperature. The temperature change was a relatively abrupt shift around 1976-77, concurrent with other basin-wide changes associated with an intensification of the Aleutian Low-pressure system. This intensification generates temperature anomalies in the ocean by altering the patterns of net surface-heat fluxes, turbulent mixing, and horizontal transport. Changes in the mean abundance of zooplankton in the southern California Current have been attributed to variations in the strength of coastal upwelling, variations in the horizontal transport of nutrient-rich water from the north, or increased stratification due to warming, all of which could be affected by fluctuations in the Aleutian Low. Here we show that a deepening of the thermocline accompanied the warming and increased the stratification of the water column, leading to a decrease in the supply of plant nutrients to the upper layers. This is the most likely mechanism for the observed plankton decline, and subsequent ecosystem changes. A global change in upper-ocean heat content, accompanied by an increase in stratification and mixed-layer deepening relative to the critical depth for net production, could lead to a widespread decline in plankton abundance.

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