CCE V: Primary production, mesozooplankton grazing, and the biological pump in the California Current Ecosystem: Variability and response to El Nino

Morrow, RM, Ohman MD, Goericke R, Kelly TB, Stephens BM, Stukel MR.  2018.  CCE V: Primary production, mesozooplankton grazing, and the biological pump in the California Current Ecosystem: Variability and response to El Nino. Deep-Sea Research Part I-Oceanographic Research Papers. 140:52-62.

Date Published:



california, Carbon export, chlorophyll, current system, Eastern boundary upwelling system, equations, fecal pellets, interannual, net primary productivity, north pacific-ocean, Oceanography, sinking particles, southern, stability, underwater gliders, variability, zone, zooplankton fecal pellets


Predicting marine carbon sequestration in a changing climate requires mechanistic understanding of the processes controlling sinking particle flux under different climatic conditions. The recent occurrence of a warm anomaly (2014-2015) followed by an El Nino (2015-2016) in the southern sector of the California Current System presented an opportunity to analyze changes in the biological carbon pump in response to altered climate forcing. We compare primary production, mesozooplankton grazing, and carbon export from the euphotic zone during quasi-Lagrangian experiments conducted in contrasting conditions: two cruises during warm years - one during the warm anomaly in 2014 and one toward the end of El Nino 2016 - and three cruises during El Ninoneutral years. Results showed no substantial differences in the relationships between vertical carbon export and its presumed drivers (primary production, mesozooplankton grazing) between warm and neutral years. Mesozooplankton fecal pellet enumeration and phaeopigment measurements both showed that fecal pellets were the dominant contributor to export in productive upwelling regions. In more oligotrophic regions, fluxes were dominated by amorphous marine snow with negligible pigment content. We found no evidence for a significant shift in the relationship between mesozooplankton grazing rate and chlorophyll concentration. However, massspecific grazing rates were lower at low-to-moderate chlorophyll concentrations during warm years relative to neutral years. We also detected a significant difference in the relationship between phytoplankton primary production and photosynthetically active radiation between years: at similar irradiance and nutrient concentrations, productivity decreased during the warm events. Whether these changes resulted from species composition changes remains to be determined. Overall, our results suggest that the processes driving export remain similar during different climate conditions, but that species compositional changes or other structural changes require further attention.