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State of the California current 2015-16: Comparisons with the 1997-98 el niÑo

  • Author(s): McClatchie, S
  • Goericke, R
  • Leising, A
  • Auth, TD
  • Bjorkstedt, E
  • Robertson, RR
  • Brodeur, RD
  • Du, X
  • Daly, EA
  • Morgan, CA
  • Chavez, FP
  • Debich, AJ
  • Hildebrand, J
  • Field, J
  • Sakuma, K
  • Jacox, MG
  • Kahru, M
  • Kudela, R
  • Anderson, C
  • Lavaniegos, BE
  • Gomez-Valdes, J
  • Jiménez-Rosenberg, SPA
  • McCabe, R
  • Melin, SR
  • Ohman, MD
  • Sala, LM
  • Peterson, B
  • Fisher, J
  • Schroeder, ID
  • Bograd, SJ
  • Hazen, EL
  • Schneider, SR
  • Golightly, RT
  • Suryan, RM
  • Gladics, AJ
  • Loredo, S
  • Porquez, JM
  • Thompson, AR
  • Weber, ED
  • Watson, W
  • Trainer, V
  • Warzybok, P
  • Bradley, R
  • Jahncke, J
  • et al.
Abstract

Warm conditions in the North Pacific in 2014-15 were a result of the continuation of the North Pacific marine heat wave, a large area of exceptionally high SST anomalies that originated in the Gulf of Alaska in late 2013. The North Pacific heat wave interacted with an El Niño developing in the equatorial Pacific in 2015. Weekly periods of exceptionally high temperature anomalies (>2˚C) occurred until the start of the El Niño (winter of 2015), when SSTs were still high but not as high as those due to the marine heat wave. During the 2015-16 El Niño, the depth of the 26.0 kg m-3 isopycnal (d26.0) was considerably shallower than during the 1982- 83 and 1997-98 events. The area affected by the marine heat wave and the 2015-16 El Niño in the mixed layer was comparable to the 1997-98 El Niño, but lasted longer. Water column stratification in the upper 100 m during 2015-16 was as strong as the most extreme values during the 1997-98 El Niño. This stratification was primarily driven by the warming of the upper 100 m. Despite notable perturbations, the effects of the 2015- 16 El Niño on hydrographic properties in the CalCOFI domain were not as strong as those observed during the 1997-98 El Niño. Warm ocean conditions, stratification, nutrient suppression, and silicic acid stress likely favored initiation of a toxic Pseudo-nitzschia bloom in fall 2014. Very low zooplankton displacement volumes were associated with anomalously warm and saline surface waters off Baja California. In contrast, during the 1997-98 El Niño, zooplankton volume was near average. Off California, pelagic red crab (Pleuroncodes planipes) adults were abundant in the water column and frequently washed up on beaches of southern California from January 2015 into 2016, and central California by September 2015. Glider measurements of integrated transport up to June 2015 did not detect anomalous northward advection. As expected, HF radar indicated northward surface currents along the central California coast in fall and winter 2015-16. Northward advection appeared to be much stronger during the 1997-98 El Niño. Throughout 2015-16, the zooplankton community on the Oregon shelf was dominated by lipid-poor tropical and sub-tropical copepods and gelatinous zooplankton, indicating poor feeding conditions for small fishes that are prey for juvenile salmon. The presence of rarely encountered species increased copepod species richness during 2015-16 to levels higher than the 1998 El Niño. We infer that the unusual copepod vagrants of 2015-16 originated from an offshore and southwesterly source; an important difference from the southerly origin of vagrants during the 1997-98 El Niño. The very warm conditions caused sardine spawning to shift from central California to Oregon. Mesopelagic fish assemblage off southern California exhibited higher abundances of species with southern affinities, and lower abundances of species with northern affinities. Forage fish (Pacific herring, northern anchovy, and Pacific sardine) were much less abundant in 2015-16 compared to previous years. In contrast, catches of salmon were close to average off northern California. Catches of young-ofthe- year rockfishes were high off central California, but low off both northern and southern California. Seabirds at Southeast Farallon Island in 2015 exhibited reduced breeding populations, reduced breeding success, lower chick growth rates, and lower fledging weights. Common murres were negatively affected in central and northern California, but seabird responses were species-specific. It is clear from the results presented here that the warm anomaly effects on the ecosystem were complicated, regionally specific, and that we do not fully understand them yet.

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