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Impact of tropical instability waves on nutrient and chlorophyll distributions in the equatorial Pacific


Evans, W and Strutton, PG and Chavez, FP, Impact of tropical instability waves on nutrient and chlorophyll distributions in the equatorial Pacific, Deep-Sea Research. Part 1: Oceanographic Research Papers, 56 pp. 178-188. ISSN 0967-0637 (2009) [Refereed Article]

Copyright Statement

Copyright 2008 Elsevier

DOI: doi:10.1016/j.dsr.2008.08.008


This work quantifies the role of tropical instability waves (TIWs) in modulating nutrient and chlorophyll distributions in the equatorial Pacific through an analysis of satellite data and a case study of in situ observations. A TIW index is constructed to differentiate periods of strong and weak TIW activity. TIW impacts are first examined in monthly averaged satellite SST and chlorophyll data for three distinct regions north of the equator where TIWs are most active. The chlorophyll data are high-pass filtered to preserve the seasonal cycle and remove long-term trends. Although SST follows a predictable relationship with the TIW index, chlorophyll concentrations do not. Periods of high TIW activity are characterized by cooler SSTs but consistently low chlorophyll. A case study of individual TIW vortices demonstrates that their impact on nutrients and chlorophyll is a function of intensity. Strong TIWs drive reductions in nutrients and chlorophyll due to the subduction of nutrient-replete water north of the equator and the advection of nutrient-poor water toward the equator from adjacent to the upwelling zone. Weak TIWs do not drive these advective processes to the same degree, so retain elevated nutrients that fuel chlorophyll increases. The most positive effect on nutrients and chlorophyll by TIWs was observed during boreal winter, likely owing to thermocline topography. A shallower thermocline in combination with weak TIWs results in elevated nutrients and chlorophyll north of the equator. Given the variability associated with TIW intensity and season, generalizing TIW effects has proven difficult, but targeted Lagrangian studies will better characterize these dynamic features and their impact on elemental fluxes.

Item Details

Item Type:Refereed Article
Keywords:equatorial pacific, tropical instability waves
Research Division:Earth Sciences
Research Group:Oceanography
Research Field:Biological oceanography
Objective Division:Expanding Knowledge
Objective Group:Expanding knowledge
Objective Field:Expanding knowledge in the earth sciences
UTAS Author:Strutton, PG (Professor Peter Strutton)
ID Code:80207
Year Published:2009
Web of Science® Times Cited:35
Deposited By:IMAS Research and Education Centre
Deposited On:2012-10-24
Last Modified:2013-03-20

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