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Plankton populations at the bifurcation of the North Pacific Current

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As the eastward-flowing North Pacific Current approaches the North American continent it bifurcates into the southward-flowing California Current and the northward-flowing Alaska Current. This bifurcation occurs in the south-eastern Gulf of Alaska and can vary in position. Dynamic height data from Project Argo floats have recently enabled the creation of surface circulation maps which show the likely position of the bifurcation; during 2002 it was relatively far north at ∼53°N then, during early 2003, it moved southwards to a more normal position at ∼45°N. Two ship-of-opportunity transects collecting plankton samples with a Continuous Plankton Recorder across the Gulf of Alaska were sampled seasonally during 2002 and 2003. Their position was dependent on the commercial ship’s operations; however, most transects sampled across the bifurcation. We show that the oceanic plankton differed in community composition according to the current system they occurred in during spring and fall of 2002 and 2003, although winter populations were more mixed. Displacement of the plankton communities could have impacts on the plankton’s reproduction and development if they use cues such as day length, and also on foraging of higher trophic-level organisms that use particular regions of the ocean if the nutritional value of the communities is different. Although we identify some indicator taxa for the Alaska and California currents, functional differences in the plankton communities on either side of the bifurcation need to be better established to determine the impacts of bifurcation movement on the ecosystems of the north-east Pacific.
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Keywords: Alaska Current; California Current; Continuous Plankton Recorder; Gulf of Alaska; North Pacific Current; Project Argo; north-east Pacific; plankton

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Department of Fisheries and Oceans, Institute of Ocean Sciences, 9860 West Saanich Road, PO Box 6000, Sidney, BC, Canada V8L 4B2

Publication date: 2007-11-01

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