Comparison of shelf currents off central California prior to and during the 1997-1998 El Nino

Continental Shelf Research




Moored current, temperature, salinity, and pressure data were collected at three sites that transect the narrow continental shelf offshore of Davenport, CA, starting in August 1996 and continuing to the spring of 1998. This data set allowed a comparison of oceanographic conditions prior to (8/96-3/97) and during (8/97-3/98) the last major El Nin??o. During this El Nin??o, mean temperatures over the 8-month time period were about 3??C warmer than during the prior year at all of the sites. Correlations between near-surface and near-bottom temperatures, and between near-surface temperature and wind stress decreased during the El Nin??o compared to conditions the year before. The mean alongshore currents were more strongly poleward during El Nin??o at sites over the mid-shelf and near the shelf break. There was a general tendency for the energy in alongshore currents to move toward lower frequencies during the El Nin??o, particularly at the sites farther offshore. The processes that forced the shelf flows changed in relative importance throughout the study. The local alongshore wind stress was less important in driving shelf currents during the El Nin??o when much of the wind-induced upwelling was confined to less than 5 km of the coast. The observed strong poleward shelf currents on the mid- to outer-shelf were not clearly tied to local forcing, but were remotely driven, most likely by slope currents. The response of the Davenport shelf to an El Nin??o event may differ from other areas since the shelf is narrow, the wind forcing is weaker than areas to the north and south, and the shelf may be at times isolated by fronts that form at strong upwelling centers. In the winter, strong storm-related winds are important in driving currents at periods not only in the synoptic wind band, but also for periods on the order of 20 d and longer.

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Comparison of shelf currents off central California prior to and during the 1997-1998 El Nino
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Continental Shelf Research
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Continental Shelf Research
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