Climate variability on multiple temporal scales is increasingly recognized as a major factor influencing the structure, functioning, and productivity of the California Current Ecosystem (CCE). Yet, despite many long-term and integrative studies, a detailed understanding of climatic impacts on upwelling and biological processes is still lacking, compromising our abilities to assess important concepts such as ecosystem "health" and "resilience." To address these issues in the central-northern CCE, the PIs have recently collated and analyzed records of rockfish and salmon growth and seabird reproductive success with respect to upwelling variability (NSF award #0929017). These diverse, multi-decadal time series revealed the importance of wintertime upwelling on ecosystem structure and function, even though upwelling, a principal driver of productivity in the CCE, is largely a summertime process. This research led to an unexpected discovery that winter and summer upwelling vary independently of one another in distinct seasonal "modes", with some biological processes affected by the winter mode and others by the summer mode. This is of significance because the summer mode shows a long-term increase (despite inter-decadal variability) while the winter mode does not.

Intellectual Merit: In this new project, the PIs will test the overarching hypothesis that upwelling modes are forced by contrasting atmospheric-oceanographic processes, exhibit contrasting patterns of low- and high-frequency variability, and will be differentially impacted by global climate change with corresponding impacts on biology. To address this hypothesis the PIs propose a three-tiered approach to better understand seasonal upwelling modes and their differential impacts on biology of the CCE. First, they will examine the responses of an entirely new suite of species to upwelling modes, including Pacific sardine (recruitment), black rockfish (growth), rhinoceros auklet and Brandt's cormorant (survival), and coho salmon (survival). Previously, coarsely resolved upwelling indices were used in these analyses, but the PIs now will integrate winds and temperatures from local buoy data to better capture climate variability on finer timescales. Second, they will derive a more mechanistic understanding of seasonal upwelling modes and use this information in combination with global climate models to forecast upwelling responses under various climate-change scenarios. Third, preliminary results indicate that tree-ring data co-vary with the fish and seabirds and are similarly sensitive to a driver of winter upwelling, the Northern Oscillation Index (NOI). The PIs will use tree-ring data to provide a 300-400 year reconstruction of the winter NOI to assess the historical range of variability in upwelling mean and variance. This study will reveal the past, present forcing, and potential future of upwelling and its biological consequences in the California Current.

Broader Impacts: This study will explore the history, future, and biological impacts of independent, seasonal climate modes and their impacts on key species. In so doing, the PIs will develop an understanding of coupled climate-ecosystem change that will be contributed to state, national, and international policy-makers, including the California Cooperative Climate Adaptation Team (CO-CAT)and the IPCC Assessment Report 5. The PIs will develop and test biological and physical indicators of California Current ecosystem productivity and will make this information available for management, specifically fisheries stock and integrated ecosystem assessments. The project will provide cross-training for 2 post-doctoral research associates, 2 other young scientists, and 1 undergraduate in physical oceanography, marine ecology, quantitative skills, communication, as well as the business of science, such as project and fiscal management and fund-raising.

National Science Foundation (NSF)
Division of Ocean Sciences (OCE)
Standard Grant (Standard)
Application #
Program Officer
David L. Garrison
Project Start
Project End
Budget Start
Budget End
Support Year
Fiscal Year
Total Cost
Indirect Cost
Oregon State University
United States
Zip Code