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Mid-latitude wind stress: the energy source for climatic shifts in the North Pacific Ocean

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Analyses of atmospheric observations in the North Pacific demonstrate extensive decadal-scale variations in the mid-latitude winter surface wind stress. In the decade after 1976 winter, eastward wind stress doubled over a broad area in the central North Pacific and the winter zero wind stress curl line was displaced about 6° southward. This resulted in increased southward Ekman transport, increased oceanic upwelling, and increased turbulent mixing as well as a southward expansion of the area of surface divergence. All these factors contributed to a decadal winter cold anomaly along the subtropical side of the North Pacific Current. In summer the cold anomaly extended eastward, almost reaching the coast of Oregon. The increased gradient in wind stress curl and southward displacement of the zero curl line also resulted in an increase in total North Pacific Current transport, primarily on the Equator side of this Current. Thus, surface water entering the California Current was of more subtropical origin in the post-1976 decade. Southward (upwelling favourable) wind stress and sea surface temperature (SST) in the area off San Francisco exhibit at least three different types of decadal departures from mean conditions. In association with the 1976 climatic shift, marine fishery production in the Oyashio, California and Alaska Currents altered dramatically, suggesting that these natural environmental variations significantly alter the long-term yields of major North Pacific fisheries.

Keywords: North Pacific; SST; regime shift; sustainable fisheries; wind stress

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: Pacific Fisheries Environmental Laboratory, National Marine Fisheries Service, 1352 Lighthouse Ave., Pacific Grove, California 93950, USA

Publication date: September 1, 2000


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