Date Published:29 Jan, 2018
Subsurface coherent eddies are well-known features of ocean circulation, but the sparsity of observations prevents an assessment of their importance for biogeochemistry. Here, we use a global eddying (0.1° ) ocean-biogeochemical model to carry out a census of subsurface coherent eddies originating from eastern boundary upwelling systems (EBUS), and quantify their biogeochemical effects as they propagate westward into the subtropical gyres. While most eddies exist for a few months, moving over distances of 100s of km, a small fraction (< 5%) of long-lived eddies propagates over distances greater than 1000km, carrying the oxygen-poor and nutrient-rich signature of EBUS into the gyre interiors. In the Pacific, transport by subsurface coherent eddies accounts for roughly 10% of the offshore transport of oxygen and nutrients in pycnocline waters. This "leakage" of subsurface waters can be a significant fraction of the transport by nutrient-rich poleward undercurrents, and may contribute to the well-known reduction of productivity by eddies in EBUS. Furthermore, at the density layer of their cores, eddies decrease climatological oxygen locally by close to 10%, thereby expanding oxygen minimum zones. Finally, eddies represent low-oxygen extreme events in otherwise oxygenated waters, increasing the area of hypoxic waters by several percent and producing dramatic short-term changes that may play an important ecological role. Capturing these non-local effects in global climate models, which typically include non-eddying oceans, would require dedicated parameterizations.