On the role of mesoscale eddies for the biological productivity and biogeochemistry in the eastern tropical Pacific Ocean off Peru
Abstract. Mesoscale eddies seem to play an important role for both the hydrography and biogeochemistry of the eastern tropical Pacific Ocean (ETSP) off Peru. However, detailed surveys of these eddies are not available, which has so far hampered an in depth understanding of their implications for nutrient distribution and biological productivity. In this study, three eddies along a section at 16°45´ S have been surveyed intensively during R/V Meteor cruise M90 in November 2012. A coastal mode water eddy, an open ocean mode water eddy and an open ocean cyclonic eddy have been identified and sampled in order to determine both their hydrographic properties and their influence on the biogeochemical setting of the ETSP. In the thermocline the temperature of the coastal anticyclonic eddy was up to 2 °C warmer, 0.2 more saline and the swirl velocity was up to 35 cm s−1. The observed temperature and salinity anomalies, as well as swirl velocities of both types of eddies were about twice as large as had been described for the mean eddies in the ETSP. The observed heat and salt anomalies (AHA, ASA) of the anticyclonic eddy near the shelf-break of 17.7 × 1018 J and 36.6 × 1010 kg are more than twice as large as the mean AHA and ASA for the ETSP. We found that the eddies contributed to the productivity by maintaining pronounced subsurface maxima of chlorophyll of up to 6 μg L−1. Based on a comparison of the coastal (young) mode water eddy and the open ocean (old) mode water eddy we suggest that the ageing of eddies when they detach from the shelf-break and move westward to the open ocean influences the eddies' properties: chlorophyll maxima are reduced to about half (2.5–3 μg L−1) and nutrients are subducted. However, different settings at the time of formation may also contribute to the observed differences between the young and old mode water eddies. The coastal mode water eddy was found to be a site of nitrogen (N) loss in the OMZ with a maximum ΔNO3− anomaly (i.e. N loss) of about −25 μmol L−1 in 250 m water depth, whereas, the open ocean mode water and cyclonic eddies were of minor and negligible importance for the N loss, respectively. Our results show that the important role of eddies for the distribution of nutrients, as well as biogeochemical processes in the ETSP (and other OMZ/upwelling regions) can only be fully deciphered and understood through dedicated high spatial and temporal resolution oceanographic/biogeochemical surveys.