FALL 2007

 

FALL 2007 FULL ISSUE

THE CALIFORNIA CURRENT, ONE OF THE WORLD'S RICHEST MARINE ECOSYSTEMS, CARRIES 10 TIMES AS MUCH WATER AS THE AMAZON

By PAUL KOBERSTEIN

The California Current spins clockwise along the West Coast, a cog in the enormous North Pacific Gyre. The California Current is said to be as rich if not richer with marine life than any other ocean ecosystem on earth, supporting large populations of whales, seabirds and valuable fisheries. But many of its fisheries and wildlife populations are badly depleted.

Scientists say the California Current ranges from 50 to several hundred kilometers in width as it moves generally southward at about one-tenth of a knot, carrying some 10 trillion gallons of water per hour, or about 10 times the size of the Amazon River. It extends from the bottom of Vancouver Island to the southern tip of Baja California in Mexico.

The current runs strongest in spring and summer, when northwest winds drive upwellings southward and Towards the coast, according to the National Ocean Service, which managers five National Marine Sanctuaries off California and Washington.

Cold, nutrient-rich water rises. coward the sur­ face, where phytoplankton nourishes ocean food webs and undersea forests of kelp. The science of managing seas as marine ecosystems dates back to the mid- 1980s, when scientists said managers should no longer focus just on single species, but rather on a long-term perspective that considers humans as part of the ecosystem.

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Paul Koberstein