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Latitudinal discontinuity in thermal conditions along the nearshore of central-northern Chile.

  • Author(s): Tapia, Fabian J
  • Largier, John L
  • Castillo, Manuel
  • Wieters, Evie A
  • Navarrete, Sergio A
  • et al.
Abstract

Over the past decade, evidence of abrupt latitudinal changes in the dynamics, structure and genetic variability of intertidal and subtidal benthic communities along central-northern Chile has been found consistently at 30-32°S. Changes in the advective and thermal environment in nearshore waters have been inferred from ecological patterns, since analyses of in situ physical data have thus far been missing. Here we analyze a unique set of shoreline temperature data, gathered over 4-10 years at 15 sites between 28-35°S, and combine it with satellite-derived winds and sea surface temperatures to investigate the latitudinal transition in nearshore oceanographic conditions suggested by recent ecological studies. Our results show a marked transition in thermal conditions at 30-31°S, superimposed on a broad latitudinal trend, and small-scale structures associated with cape-and-bay topography. The seasonal cycle dominated temperature variability throughout the region, but its relative importance decreased abruptly south of 30-31°S, as variability at synoptic and intra-seasonal scales became more important. The response of shoreline temperatures to meridional wind stress also changed abruptly at the transition, leading to a sharp drop in the occurrence of low-temperature waters at northern sites, and a concurrent decrease in corticated algal biomass. Together, these results suggest a limitation of nitrate availability in nearshore waters north of the transition. The localized alongshore change results from the interaction of latitudinal trends (e.g., wind stress, surface warming, inertial period) with a major headland-bay system (Punta Lengua de Vaca at 30.25°S), which juxtaposes a southern stretch of coast characterized by upwelling with a northern stretch of coast characterized by warm surface waters and stratification. This transition likely generates a number of latitude-dependent controls on ecological processes in the nearshore that can explain species-specific effects, and add strength to the suggestion of an oceanography-driven, major spatial transition in coastal communities at 30-31°S.

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