A Lagrangian study of the contribution of the Canary coastal upwelling to the nitrogen budget of the open North Atlantic

Derara Hailegeorgis, Zouhair Lachkar, Christoph Rieper, Nicolas Gruber

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The Canary Current System (CanCS) is a major eastern boundary upwelling system (EBUS), known for its high nearshore productivity and for sustaining a large fishery. It is also an important but not well quantified source of nitrogen to the adjacent oligotrophic subtropical gyre of the North Atlantic. Here, we use a Lagrangian modeling approach to quantify this offshore transport and investigate its timescales, reach and contribution to the fueling of productivity in the offshore regions. In our Lagrangian model, we release nearly 10 million particles off the northwestern African coast and then track all those that enter the nearshore region and upwell along the coast between 14 and 35g N. We then follow them as they are transported offshore, also tracking the biogeochemical transformations, permitting us to construct biogeochemical budgets along the offshore moving particles. The three-dimensional velocity field as well as the biogeochemical tracers and fluxes are taken from an eddy-resolving configuration of the Regional Ocean Modeling System (ROMS). Our Lagrangian model analysis reveals a very intense offshore transport of nitrogen, with about 20 %-40 % in the form of organic nitrogen. The transport varies greatly along the coast. Even though the central CanCS (21-28g N) transports the largest amount of water offshore, its offshore transport of nitrogen is somewhat smaller than that in the southern CanCS (14-21g N), primarily because of the higher nitrogen content of the upwelling waters there. Around one-third of the total offshore transport of water occurs around major capes along the CanCS. The persistent filaments associated with these capes are responsible for an up to 4-fold enhancement of the offshore transport of water and nitrogen in the first 400 km. Much of this water and nitrogen stems from upwelling at quite some distance from the capes, confirming the capes' role in collecting water from along the coast. North of Cape Blanc and within the first 500 km from the coast, water recirculation is a dominant feature of offshore transport. This process, likely associated with mesoscale eddies, tends to reduce the efficiency of offshore transport. The Canary upwelling is modeled to supply around 44 and 7 mmol N m-2 yr-1 to the North Atlantic Tropical Gyral (NATR) and the North Atlantic Subtropical Gyral East (NASE) Longhurst provinces, respectively. In the NATR, this represents nearly half (53 ± 26 %) of the estimated total new production, while in the NASE, this fraction is small (4 ± 2 %). Our results highlight the importance of the CanCS upwelling as a key source of nitrogen to the open North Atlantic and stress the need for improving the representation of EBUS in global coarse-resolution models.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)303-325
Number of pages23
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 15 2021

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Earth-Surface Processes


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