California Current

California Current

The California Current is a Pacific Ocean current that moves south along the western coast of North America, beginning off southern British Columbia, and ending off southern Baja California. It is a type of current known as an Eastern boundary current and is part of the North Pacific Gyre, a large swirling current that occupies the northern basin of the Pacific. The movement of northern waters southward makes the coastal waters cooler than coastal areas of comparable latitude on the east coast of the United States. Additionally, extensive upwelling of colder sub-surface waters occurs, caused by the prevailing northwesterly winds acting through the Ekman Effect. The winds drive surface water to the right of the wind flow, that is offshore, which draws water up from below to replace it. The upwelling further cools the already cool California Current. This is the mechanism which produces coastal California's characteristic fog.

The cold water is highly productive due to the upwelling, which brings to the surface nutrient-rich sediments, supporting large populations of whales, seabirds and important fisheries. A narrower, weaker counter current, the Davidson Current, occasionally moves somewhat warmer water northwards during the winter months. During El Niño events, the California Current is disrupted, leading to declines in phytoplankton, resulting in cascading effects up the food chain, such as declines in fisheries, seabird breeding failures and marine mammal mortality. In 2005, a failure in the otherwise predictable upwelling events, unassociated with El Niño, caused a collapse in krill in the current, leading to similar effects. [Carina Stanton. [ Warmer oceans may be killing West Coast marine life] . "Seattle Times". 13 July 2005. Retrieved 22 March 2008.]


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