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Publication Title

Journal of Geophysical Research-Oceans








The central and eastern equatorial Pacific region is characterized by lower than expected phytoplankton biomass and primary production given the relatively high ambient nitrate concentrations. These unusual conditions have spawned several field programs and laboratory experiments to determine why this high nitrate-low chlorophyll pattern persists in this region. To synthesize the results from these field programs, as well as providing additional evidence in support of the iron hypothesis, we developed a one-dimensional, nine-component ecosystem model of 0 degrees N 140 degrees W. The model components include two phytoplankton size fractions, two zooplankton size fractions, two detrital size fractions, dissolved iron, nitrate, and ammonium. The model was run for 5 years (1990-1994) and was forced using an atmospheric radiative transfer model, an ocean general circulation model (GCM), and in situ data. To our knowledge, this is the first ecosystem model at 0 degrees N 140 degrees W to synthesize the Joint Global Ocean Flux Study Equatorial Pacific Process Study (JGOFS EqPac) data set, as well as to use both in situ and modeled physical data to drive the model. Modeled phytoplankton, zooplankton, and iron all varied on interannual timescales due to El Nino events. Total phytoplankton biomass increased by as much as 40% from early 1992 (El Nino warm) to 1993 (normal). The results also indicate that the biomass increase during a cool period is not constant for each phytoplankton component, but instead the increase is most evident in the netphytoplankton (>10 mu m). Netphytoplankton increase from a low of 0.1% of the total chlorophyll in 1992 to a high of 30% of the total in 1993. Microzooplankton grazing rates fluctuated in response to changes in nanophytoplankton growth rates, whereas mesozooplankton grazing was unrelated to netphytoplankton growth rates. The magnitude and temporal variability of phytoplankton chlorophyll agreed well with in situ data collected during 1992. Modeled primary production was lower than measured during El Nino but agreed with observations during normal conditions. The low primary productivity was probably a result of downwelling produced by the physical model. New production was calculated from total and recycled iron rather than nitrate-based production and was more variable in general and almost 3 times the nitrate-based new production during non-El Nino conditions.

Original Publication Citation

Leonard, C.L., McClain, C.R., Murtugudde, R., Hofmann, E.E., & Harding, L.W. (1999). An iron-based ecosystem model of the central equatorial Pacific. Journal of Geophysical Research-Oceans, 104(C1), 1325-1341. doi: 10.1029/1998jc900049