Modeled and observed impacts of the 1997-98 El Niño on nitrate and new production in the equatorial Pacific
Radenac M.-H., C. Menkes, J. Vialard, C. Moulin, Y. Dandonneau, T. Delcroix, C. Dupouy, A. Stoens, and P.-Y. Deschamps
Journal of Geophysical Research, 106, 26879-26898.
The impact of the strong 1997-1998 El Niño event on nitrate distribution and new production in the equatorial Pacific is investigated, using a combination of satellite and in situ observations, and an ocean circulation-biogeochemical model. The general circulation model is forced with realistic wind stresses deduced from ERS-1 and ERS-2 scatterometers over the 1993-1998 period. Its outputs are used to drive a biogeochemical model where biology is parameterized as a nitrate sink. We first show that the models capture the essential circulation and biogeochemical equatorial features along with their temporal evolution during the 1997-1998 event, although the modeled variability seems underestimated. In particular, the model fails to reproduce unusual bloom conditions. This is attributed to the simplicity of the biological model. An analysis of the physical mechanisms responsible for the dramatic decrease of the biological equatorial production during El Niño is then proposed. During the growth phase (November 1996 through June 1997), nitrate-poor waters of the western Pacific are advected eastward, and the vertical supply of nitrate is reduced due to nitracline deepening. These processes result in the invasion of the equatorial Pacific by nitrate-poor waters during the mature phase (November 1997 through January 1998). At that time, the central Pacific is nitrate limited and experiences warm pool oligotrophic conditions. As a result, the modeled new production over the equatorial Pacific drops by 40% compared to the mean 1993-1996 values. Then, while El Niño conditions are still present at the surface, the nitracline shallows over most of the basin in early 1998. Therefore the strengthening of the trade winds in May 1998 efficiently switches on the nitrate vertical supply over a large part of the equatorial Pacific, leading to a rapid return of high biological production conditions. Strong La Niña conditions then develop, resulting in a biologically rich tongue extending as far west as 160°E for several months.