National Oceanic and
Atmospheric Administration
United States Department of Commerce


FY 2002

Carbon fluxes in the equatorial Pacific: A synthesis of the JGOFS programme

Le Borgne, R., R.A. Feely, and D.J. Mackey

Deep-Sea Res. Pt. II, 49(13–14), 2425–2442, doi: 10.1016/S0967-0645(02)00043-7 (2002)

This paper synthesizes published results on the carbon cycle of the equatorial Pacific which accounts for a major fraction of the net exchange of CO between the atmosphere and the oceans. Most of the CO evasion takes place in the upwelling-influenced region in the eastern Pacific, while atmospheric and sea-surface partial pressures of CO are near equilibrium in the warm pool, located to the west. Large changes in the surface area of the upwelling region, which occur as a result of the ENSO (El Niño-Southern Oscillation) phenomenon, account for up to 70% of the interannual variability in the net air-sea flux of CO. On average, the export of biological production, which is approximately the same as new primary production, is similar to that of CO evasion (0.8-1.0 Pg C yr), but there is less temporal variability due to the very slow uptake of new macronutrients in the equatorial ecosystem. As in other tropical ecosystems, both the warm pool and upwelling areas are characterized by: (i) the dominance of picophytoplankton, and (ii) the steady state, achieved by the balance between predation and growth. In addition to the basic tropical population of nano- and picoplankton, larger phytoplankton are more abundant in the nutrient-replete waters of the upwelling region with the result that biomass, mean organism size and export fluxes are greater than in the nutrient-depleted waters of the warm pool. However, the difference in export flux of carbon between the two regions is rather modest (2-4 fold per unit area) because of the limitation of primary production in the upwelling zone by iron and, possibly, other nutrients. The latter is a typical HNLC (high-nutrient-low-chlorophyll) zone with very low rates of uptake of macronutrients and an essentially constant export flux of carbon due to the "biological pump." This general pattern is temporarily disturbed by the passage of equatorial Kelvin waves and tropical instability waves (TIW) in the upwelling region through horizontal advection and possible inputs of micronutrients from the deeper layers. Finally, low-frequency variations on decadal time scales could influence the values of the CO evasion and the "biological pump." Studying their impact will require long-term monitoring.

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