A comparison of modes of upwelling-favorable wind variability in the Benguela and California current ecosystems

Marisol García-Reyes, Tarron Lamont, William J. Sydeman, Bryan A. Black, Ryan R. Rykaczewski, Sarah Ann Thompson, Steven J. Bograd

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Scopus citations


The California Current System (CCS) has two independent seasonal modes of upwelling variability, summer and winter, driven by different atmospheric processes. The variability of upwelling winds during winter is particularly important as strong, episodic events, driven by atmospheric teleconnections with the equatorial Pacific that are active in this season, impact ecological systems along the west coast of North America. Given the importance of upwelling seasonality to ecosystem function, we hypothesize that the Benguela Current System (BCS) shows similar independent seasonal modes of upwelling variability. To test this hypothesis, compare modes of variability between systems, and investigate potential drivers, we use an upwelling index derived from NCEP2 wind data (1979–2014) for the northern, southern, and Agulhas Bank areas of the BCS. In the northern and southern BCS, only one mode of upwelling variability is observed: year-round in the north and during the austral spring and summer (October through April) in the south. The Agulhas Bank region shows two modes of seasonal variability. Based on this 35-year dataset, summer upwelling modes in both the CCS and BCS appear to have similar decadal-scale variability. The other modes of variability (winter mode in the CCS and the non-seasonal second mode in the BCS) are correlated with year-to-year variability in the positioning of regional oceanic high-pressure systems. The leading mode of upwelling variability in the Agulhas Bank region, in the austral summer/fall, is highly correlated with sea level pressure as well as sea surface temperature in the equatorial Pacific, in a spatial and seasonal pattern (boreal winter) resembling the El Niño-Southern Oscillation. Across the CCS, modes of upwelling variability are similar to one another, while modes differ between regions in the BCS. This difference could lead to regional mismatches in favorable ecological conditions. In contrast with the spatially synchronous winter variability influencing the entire CCS ecosystem, substantial regional variation in the BCS may have strong effects on ecosystem functions, especially for species (e.g., small pelagic fish) that migrate between the Agulhas Bank and other areas of the BCS.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)17-26
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of Marine Systems
StatePublished - Dec 2018
Externally publishedYes


  • Benguela upwelling system
  • California upwelling system
  • Upwelling seasonality
  • Upwelling variability

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Oceanography
  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Aquatic Science


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