Simulating the ocean's chlorophyll dynamic range from coastal upwelling to oligotrophy

N. Van Oostende, R. Dussin, C. A. Stock, A. D. Barton, E. Curchitser, J. P. Dunne, B. B. Ward

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

28 Scopus citations


The measured concentration of chlorophyll a in the surface ocean spans four orders of magnitude, from ∼0.01 mg m−3 in the oligotrophic gyres to >10 mg m−3 in coastal zones. Productive regions encompass only a small fraction of the global ocean area yet they contribute disproportionately to marine resources and biogeochemical processes, such as fish catch and coastal hypoxia. These regions and/or the full observed range of chlorophyll concentration, however, are often poorly represented in global earth system models (ESMs) used to project climate change impacts on marine ecosystems. Furthermore, recent high resolution (∼10 km) global earth system simulations suggest that this shortfall is not solely due to coarse resolution (∼100 km) of most global ESMs. By integrating a global biogeochemical model that includes two phytoplankton size classes (typical of many ESMs) into a regional simulation of the California Current System (CCS) we test the hypothesis that a combination of higher spatial resolution and enhanced resolution of phytoplankton size classes and grazer linkages may enable global ESMs to better capture the full range of observed chlorophyll. The CCS is notable for encompassing both oligotrophic (<0.1 mg m−3) and productive (>10 mg m−3) endpoints of the global chlorophyll distribution. As was the case for global high-resolution simulations, the regional high-resolution implementation with two size classes fails to capture the productive endpoint. The addition of a third phytoplankton size class representing a chain-forming coastal diatom enables such models to capture the full range of chlorophyll concentration along a nutrient supply gradient, from highly productive coastal upwelling systems to oligotrophic gyres. Weaker ‘top-down’ control on coastal diatoms results in stronger trophic decoupling and increased phytoplankton biomass, following the introduction of new nutrients to the photic zone. The enhanced representation of near-shore chlorophyll maxima allows the model to better capture coastal hypoxia along the continental shelf of the North American west coast and may improve the representation of living marine resources.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)232-247
Number of pages16
JournalProgress in Oceanography
StatePublished - Nov 2018

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Aquatic Science
  • Geology


  • California Current
  • Chlorophyll
  • Coastal hypoxia
  • Coastal upwelling
  • Diatom
  • Phytoplankton community size-structure


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