The sediments of the Santa Barbara Basin (SBB) are an important paleoecological resource since their structure reflects the oxygenation of the bottom waters and the quality and quantity of the particulate matter which is sequestered to the bottom of the basin. These properties are controlled by regional atmospheric and oceanic climate. The California Cooperative Oceanic Fisheries Investigations (CalCOFI) program has been monitoring the bottom waters of the SBB on a regular basis since 1986. Over the last decade, properties of SBB bottom waters have undergone dramatic changes: low concentrations of nitrate were observed more frequently and concentrations of nitrite, at times, reached values of 7 mu M, in contrast to maximum concentrations of 0.2 mu M observed during the earlier time period. Here we study the links between regional climate and conditions at the bottom of the SBB by relating recent changes in bottom water chemistry to local and regional forcing of the basin. Varying rates of primary production of the overlying water or rates of export production were not significantly related to the observed biogeochemical changes in the basin. Rather, the frequency or rate of flushing, as inferred from phosphate concentration changes at the bottom of the basin, and decreasing concentrations of oxygen in the waters outside the basins could be related to the observed changes. The episodic more than 10-fold increases of nitrite in the bottom waters likely represent a tipping point in the biogeochemical system driven by decreasing concentrations of oxygen in the bottom waters. (C) 2014 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.