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Projections of Future Ocean Eddy Intensity Provide Improved Understanding of Climate Change Impacts on California Coast


Along the coast of California, the California Current System (CCS) is a cold water current that moves southward and causes seasonal upwelling and circular currents of water called eddies. The upwelling and eddies contribute to a diverse and productive ecosystem, supporting fisheries, recreational activities, and local economies, but the impacts of climate change on these CCS processes are poorly understood. 

A new modeling study, funded in part by the Climate Program Office’s Climate Variability & Predictability (CVP) and Modeling, Analysis, Predictions and Projections (MAPP) Programs, uses projected climate conditions through 2100 to produce high-resolution estimates of ocean current variability over scales of ten to a hundred kilometers. Researchers from the University of California Santa Cruz, NOAA’s Southwest Fisheries Science Center, and NOAA’s Physical Sciences Laboratory indicate that eddies are projected to become more variable and intense toward the end of the century compared to a 1980-2010 reference period. The model findings, published in Geophysical Research Letters, show that increased eddy kinetic energy also correlates with more defined ocean stratification caused by ocean warming, rather than any projected changes in coastal winds and currents. The transport and availability of ocean nutrients and organisms would likely be impacted by these changes in eddy processes, affecting ecosystems and coastal communities. 

This work contributes to a CVP initiative to improve our understanding of Pacific climate by bridging knowledge between observations and models, as well as contributing to MAPP’s mission to support advancements in Earth system models to inform climate resilience.

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