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Keywords:

  • climate change;
  • ecosystem regime shift;
  • ENSO;
  • greenhouse gas;
  • hypoxia;
  • jellyfish outbreaks;
  • sardines;
  • upwelling intensification

Abstract

Coastal ocean upwelling ecosystems generally represent the most productive large marine ecosystems of the world's oceans, in terms of both primary production rates and tonnages of exploitable fish produced. The Peruvian upwelling system, in particular, stands out as a major factor in world fish production. The Pacific trade winds have traditionally been considered to be the primary driving force for the upwelling system off Peru, but are projected to weaken as climate change proceeds. This leads to concern that the upwelling process in the Peru system, to which its productivity is linked, may likewise weaken. However, other mechanisms involving greenhouse-associated intensification of thermal low-pressure cells over the coastal landmasses of upwelling regions suggest general intensification of wind-driven ocean upwelling in coastal upwelling regions of the world's oceans. But although certain empirical results have supported this expectation, it has not been consistently corroborated in climate model simulations, possibly because the scale of the coastal intensification may be small relative to the scales that are appropriately reflected in the standard models. Here we summarize available evidence for the intensification mechanism and present a proxy test that uses variations in water vapor, the dominant natural greenhouse gas, to offer multiple-realization empirical evidence for action of the proposed mechanism in the real world situation. While many potential consequences to the future of marine ecosystems would codepend on climate change-related changes in the thermocline and nutricline structures, an important subset, involving potential increased propensities for hypoxia, noxious gas eruptions, toxic red tide blooms, and/or jellyfish outbreaks, may depend more directly on changes in the upwelling-favorable wind itself. A prospective role of fisheries in either mitigating or reinforcing this particular class of effects is suggested.