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Boundaries of the Peruvian oxygen minimum zone shaped by coherent mesoscale dynamics


Dissolved oxygen in sea water affects marine habitats and biogeochemical cycles1,2,3. Oceanic zones with oxygen deficits represent 7% of the volume and 8% of the area of the oceans4, and are thought to be expanding4,5. One of the most pronounced lies in the region off Peru, where mesoscale activity in the form of fronts and eddies is strong. Here, we study the dynamics of the Peruvian oxygen minimum zone in a Lagrangian framework, using a coupled physical–biogeochemical numerical model and finite-size Lyapunov exponent fields, to evaluate the role of mesoscale activity. We find that, at depths between 380 and 600 m, mesoscale structures have two distinct roles. First, their mean positions and paths delimit and maintain the oxygen minimum zone boundaries. Second, their high-frequency fluctuations inject oxygen across the oxygen minimum zone boundaries and eddy fluxes are one order of magnitude higher than mean oxygen fluxes. We conclude that these eddy fluxes contribute to the ventilation of the Peruvian oxygen minimum zone.

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Figure 1: OMZ core, finite-size Lyapunov exponent (FSLE) and FSLE–O2 gradient correlations for simulation year 21.
Figure 2: Entrainment of O2-rich waters into the OMZ due to the motion of Lagrangian coherent structures.
Figure 3: Vertical profiles of FSLE and O2 eddy fluxes from 200 to 600 m.

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J.H.B., C.L. and E.H.-G. acknowledge support from FEDER and MINECO (Spain) through projects ESCOLA (CTM2012-39025-C02-01) and INTENSE@COSYP (FIS2012-30634). J.H.B. acknowledges financial support of the Portuguese FCT (Foundation for Science and Technology) and Fundo Social Europeu (FSE/QREN/POPH) through the predoctoral grant SFRH/BD/63840/2009. I.M. would like to acknowledge the EUR-OCEANS Consortium for support through a Flagship post-doctoral fellowship on deoxygenation in the oceans.

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J.H.B., C.L., E.H.-G., B.D. and V.G. directed the study; J.H.B., C.L., E.H.-G., B.D., I.M., J.S., A.P. and V.G. analysed data and performed numerical simulations; J.H.B., C.L., E.H.-G. and V.G. wrote the paper with significant contributions from B.D.

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Correspondence to João H. Bettencourt.

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The authors declare no competing financial interests.

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Bettencourt, J., López, C., Hernández-García, E. et al. Boundaries of the Peruvian oxygen minimum zone shaped by coherent mesoscale dynamics. Nature Geosci 8, 937–940 (2015).

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