Upwelling is an oceanographic
Physical oceanography
Physical oceanography is the study of physical conditions and physical processes within the ocean, especially the motions and physical properties of ocean waters.Physical oceanography is one of several sub-domains into which oceanography is divided...

 phenomenon that involves wind
Wind is the flow of gases on a large scale. On Earth, wind consists of the bulk movement of air. In outer space, solar wind is the movement of gases or charged particles from the sun through space, while planetary wind is the outgassing of light chemical elements from a planet's atmosphere into space...

-driven motion of dense, cooler, and usually nutrient
A nutrient is a chemical that an organism needs to live and grow or a substance used in an organism's metabolism which must be taken in from its environment. They are used to build and repair tissues, regulate body processes and are converted to and used as energy...

-rich water towards the ocean
An ocean is a major body of saline water, and a principal component of the hydrosphere. Approximately 71% of the Earth's surface is covered by ocean, a continuous body of water that is customarily divided into several principal oceans and smaller seas.More than half of this area is over 3,000...

 surface, replacing the warmer, usually nutrient-depleted surface water. The increased availability in upwelling regions results in high levels of primary productivity and thus fishery
Generally, a fishery is an entity engaged in raising or harvesting fish which is determined by some authority to be a fishery. According to the FAO, a fishery is typically defined in terms of the "people involved, species or type of fish, area of water or seabed, method of fishing, class of boats,...

 production. Approximately 25% of the total global marine fish catches come from five upwellings that occupy only 5% of the total ocean area. Upwellings that are driven by coastal currents
Ocean current
An ocean current is a continuous, directed movement of ocean water generated by the forces acting upon this mean flow, such as breaking waves, wind, Coriolis effect, cabbeling, temperature and salinity differences and tides caused by the gravitational pull of the Moon and the Sun...

 or diverging open ocean have the greatest impact on nutrient-enriched waters and global fishery yields.


The major upwellings in the ocean are associated with the divergence of currents that bring deeper, colder, nutrient rich waters to the surface. There are at least five types of upwelling: coastal upwelling, large-scale wind-driven upwelling in the ocean interior, upwelling associated with eddies, topographically-associated upwelling, and broad-diffusive upwelling in the ocean interior.


Coastal upwelling is the best known type of upwelling, and the most closely related to human activities as it supports some of the most productive fisheries in the world. Wind-driven currents are diverted to the right of the winds in the Northern Hemisphere and to the left in the Southern Hemisphere due to the Coriolis effect
Coriolis effect
In physics, the Coriolis effect is a deflection of moving objects when they are viewed in a rotating reference frame. In a reference frame with clockwise rotation, the deflection is to the left of the motion of the object; in one with counter-clockwise rotation, the deflection is to the right...

. The result is a net movement of surface water at right angles to the direction of the wind, known as the Ekman transport
Ekman transport
Ekman transport, part of Ekman motion theory first investigated in 1902 by Vagn Walfrid Ekman , is the term given for the 90 degree net transport of the surface layer due to wind forcings...

 (See also Ekman Spiral
Ekman spiral
The Ekman spiral refers to a structure of currents or winds near a horizontal boundary in which the flow direction rotates as one moves away from the boundary. It derives its name from the Swedish oceanographer Vagn Walfrid Ekman...

). When Ekman transport is occurring away from the coast, surface waters moving away are replaced by deeper, colder, and denser water.

Deep waters are rich in nutrients, including nitrate
The nitrate ion is a polyatomic ion with the molecular formula NO and a molecular mass of 62.0049 g/mol. It is the conjugate base of nitric acid, consisting of one central nitrogen atom surrounded by three identically-bonded oxygen atoms in a trigonal planar arrangement. The nitrate ion carries a...

 and phosphate
A phosphate, an inorganic chemical, is a salt of phosphoric acid. In organic chemistry, a phosphate, or organophosphate, is an ester of phosphoric acid. Organic phosphates are important in biochemistry and biogeochemistry or ecology. Inorganic phosphates are mined to obtain phosphorus for use in...

, themselves the result of decomposition
Decomposition is the process by which organic material is broken down into simpler forms of matter. The process is essential for recycling the finite matter that occupies physical space in the biome. Bodies of living organisms begin to decompose shortly after death...

 of sinking organic matter
Organic matter
Organic matter is matter that has come from a once-living organism; is capable of decay, or the product of decay; or is composed of organic compounds...

 (dead/detrital plankton) from surface waters. When brought to the surface, these nutrients are utilized by phytoplankton
Phytoplankton are the autotrophic component of the plankton community. The name comes from the Greek words φυτόν , meaning "plant", and πλαγκτός , meaning "wanderer" or "drifter". Most phytoplankton are too small to be individually seen with the unaided eye...

, along with dissolved CO2 (carbon dioxide
Carbon dioxide
Carbon dioxide is a naturally occurring chemical compound composed of two oxygen atoms covalently bonded to a single carbon atom...

) and light energy from the sun
The Sun is the star at the center of the Solar System. It is almost perfectly spherical and consists of hot plasma interwoven with magnetic fields...

, to produce organic compound
Organic compound
An organic compound is any member of a large class of gaseous, liquid, or solid chemical compounds whose molecules contain carbon. For historical reasons discussed below, a few types of carbon-containing compounds such as carbides, carbonates, simple oxides of carbon, and cyanides, as well as the...

s, through the process of photosynthesis
Photosynthesis is a chemical process that converts carbon dioxide into organic compounds, especially sugars, using the energy from sunlight. Photosynthesis occurs in plants, algae, and many species of bacteria, but not in archaea. Photosynthetic organisms are called photoautotrophs, since they can...

. Upwelling regions therefore result in very high levels of primary production (the amount of carbon fixed by phytoplankton
Phytoplankton are the autotrophic component of the plankton community. The name comes from the Greek words φυτόν , meaning "plant", and πλαγκτός , meaning "wanderer" or "drifter". Most phytoplankton are too small to be individually seen with the unaided eye...

) in comparison to other areas of the ocean. High primary production propagates up the food chain
Food chain
A food web depicts feeding connections in an ecological community. Ecologists can broadly lump all life forms into one of two categories called trophic levels: 1) the autotrophs, and 2) the heterotrophs...

 because phytoplankton
Phytoplankton are the autotrophic component of the plankton community. The name comes from the Greek words φυτόν , meaning "plant", and πλαγκτός , meaning "wanderer" or "drifter". Most phytoplankton are too small to be individually seen with the unaided eye...

 are at the base of the oceanic food chain.

The food chain follows the course of:
  • Phytoplankton → Zooplankton
    Zooplankton are heterotrophic plankton. Plankton are organisms drifting in oceans, seas, and bodies of fresh water. The word "zooplankton" is derived from the Greek zoon , meaning "animal", and , meaning "wanderer" or "drifter"...

     → Predatory zooplankton → Filter feeders → Predatory fish

Worldwide, there are five major coastal currents associated with upwelling areas: the Canary Current
Canary Current
The Canary Current is a wind-driven surface current that is part of the North Atlantic Gyre. This eastern boundary current branches south from the North Atlantic Current and flows southwest about as far as Senegal where it turns west and later joins the Atlantic North Equatorial Current. The...

 (off Northwest Africa), the Benguela Current
Benguela Current
The Benguela Current is the broad, northward flowing ocean current that forms the eastern portion of the South Atlantic Ocean gyre. The current extends from roughly Cape Point in the south, to the position of the Angola-Benguela Front in the north, at around 16°S. The current is driven by the...

 (off southern Africa
Southern Africa
Southern Africa is the southernmost region of the African continent, variably defined by geography or geopolitics. Within the region are numerous territories, including the Republic of South Africa ; nowadays, the simpler term South Africa is generally reserved for the country in English.-UN...

), the California Current
California Current
The California Current is a Pacific Ocean current that moves south along the western coast of North America, beginning off southern British Columbia, and ending off southern Baja California. There are five major coastal currents affiliated with upwelling zones...

 (off California
California is a state located on the West Coast of the United States. It is by far the most populous U.S. state, and the third-largest by land area...

 and Oregon
Oregon is a state in the Pacific Northwest region of the United States. It is located on the Pacific coast, with Washington to the north, California to the south, Nevada on the southeast and Idaho to the east. The Columbia and Snake rivers delineate much of Oregon's northern and eastern...

), the Humboldt Current
Humboldt Current
The Humboldt Current , also known as the Peru Current, is a cold, low-salinity ocean current that flows north-westward along the west coast of South America from the southern tip of Chile to northern Peru. It is an eastern boundary current flowing in the direction of the equator, and can extend...

 (off Peru
Peru , officially the Republic of Peru , is a country in western South America. It is bordered on the north by Ecuador and Colombia, on the east by Brazil, on the southeast by Bolivia, on the south by Chile, and on the west by the Pacific Ocean....

 and Chile
Chile ,officially the Republic of Chile , is a country in South America occupying a long, narrow coastal strip between the Andes mountains to the east and the Pacific Ocean to the west. It borders Peru to the north, Bolivia to the northeast, Argentina to the east, and the Drake Passage in the far...

), and the Somali Current
Somali Current
The Somali Current is an ocean boundary current that runs along the coast of Somalia and Oman in the Western Indian Ocean and is analogous to the Gulf Stream in the Atlantic Ocean. This current is heavily influenced by the monsoons and is the only major upwelling system that occurs on a western...

 (off Western India). All of these currents support major fisheries. It also occurs in southeastern Brazil, more precisely in Arraial do Cabo
Arraial do Cabo
Arraial do Cabo is a municipality located in the Brazilian state of Rio de Janeiro. Its population was 26,390 and its area is 152 km²....



Upwelling at the equator
An equator is the intersection of a sphere's surface with the plane perpendicular to the sphere's axis of rotation and containing the sphere's center of mass....

 is associated with the Intertropical Convergence Zone
Intertropical Convergence Zone
The Intertropical Convergence Zone , known by sailors as The Doldrums, is the area encircling the earth near the equator where winds originating in the northern and southern hemispheres come together....

 (ITCZ) which actually moves, and consequently, is often located north or south of the equator. Easterly (westward) winds blowing along the ITCZ in both the Pacific and Atlantic Basins drive water to the right (northwards) in the Northern Hemisphere
Northern Hemisphere
The Northern Hemisphere is the half of a planet that is north of its equator—the word hemisphere literally means “half sphere”. It is also that half of the celestial sphere north of the celestial equator...

 and to the left (southwards) in the Southern Hemisphere
Southern Hemisphere
The Southern Hemisphere is the part of Earth that lies south of the equator. The word hemisphere literally means 'half ball' or "half sphere"...

. If the ITCZ is displaced above the equator, the wind south of it becomes a southwesterly wind which drives water to its right or southeasterly, away from the ITCZ. Whatever its location, this results in a divergence, with denser, nutrient-rich water being upwelled from below, and results in the remarkable fact that the equatorial region in the Pacific can be detected from space as a broad line of high phytoplankton concentration.

Southern Ocean

Large-scale upwelling is also found in the Southern Ocean
Southern Ocean
The Southern Ocean comprises the southernmost waters of the World Ocean, generally taken to be south of 60°S latitude and encircling Antarctica. It is usually regarded as the fourth-largest of the five principal oceanic divisions...

. Here, strong westerly (eastward) winds blow around Antarctica, driving a significant flow of water northwards. This is actually a type of coastal upwelling. Since there are no continents in a band of open latitudes between South America
South America
South America is a continent situated in the Western Hemisphere, mostly in the Southern Hemisphere, with a relatively small portion in the Northern Hemisphere. The continent is also considered a subcontinent of the Americas. It is bordered on the west by the Pacific Ocean and on the north and east...

 and the tip of the Antarctic Peninsula, some of this water is drawn up from great depths. In many numerical models and observational syntheses, the Southern Ocean upwelling represents the primary means by which deep dense water is brought to the surface. Shallower, wind-driven upwelling is also found in off the west coasts of North and South America, northwest and southwest Africa, and southwest Australia, all associated with oceanic subtropical high pressure circulations (see coastal upwelling above).

Some models of the ocean circulation suggest that broad-scale upwelling occurs in the tropics, as pressure driven flows converge water toward the low latitudes where it is diffusively warmed from above. The required diffusion coefficients, however, appear to be larger than are observed in the real ocean. Nonetheless, some diffusive upwelling does probably occur.

Other sources

  • Local and intermittent upwellings may occur when offshore islands, ridges, or seamounts cause a deflection of deep currents, providing a nutrient rich area in otherwise low productivity ocean areas. Examples include upwellings around the Galapagos Islands
    Galápagos Islands
    The Galápagos Islands are an archipelago of volcanic islands distributed around the equator in the Pacific Ocean, west of continental Ecuador, of which they are a part.The Galápagos Islands and its surrounding waters form an Ecuadorian province, a national park, and a...

     and the Seychelles Islands, which have major pelagic fisheries.
  • Upwelling can also occur when a tropical cyclone
    Tropical cyclone
    A tropical cyclone is a storm system characterized by a large low-pressure center and numerous thunderstorms that produce strong winds and heavy rain. Tropical cyclones strengthen when water evaporated from the ocean is released as the saturated air rises, resulting in condensation of water vapor...

     transits an area, usually when moving at speeds of less than 5 mph (8 km/h). The churning of a cyclone eventually draws up cooler water from lower layers of the ocean. This causes the cyclone to weaken.
  • Artificial upwelling is produced by devices that use ocean wave energy or ocean thermal energy conversion to pump water to the surface. Ocean wind turbines are also known to produce upwellings. Ocean wave devices have been shown to produce plankton blooms.


Upwelling intensity depends on wind strength and seasonal variability, as well as the vertical structure of the water
Water is a chemical substance with the chemical formula H2O. A water molecule contains one oxygen and two hydrogen atoms connected by covalent bonds. Water is a liquid at ambient conditions, but it often co-exists on Earth with its solid state, ice, and gaseous state . Water also exists in a...

, variations in the bottom bathymetry
Bathymetry is the study of underwater depth of lake or ocean floors. In other words, bathymetry is the underwater equivalent to hypsometry. The name comes from Greek βαθύς , "deep", and μέτρον , "measure"...

, and instabilities in the currents
Current (fluid)
A current in a fluid is the magnitude and direction of flow within that fluid. An air current presents the same properties for a gaseous medium.Kinds of fluid currents include.* Boundary current* Current , a current in a river or stream...


In some areas, upwelling is a seasonal event leading to periodic bursts of productivity similar to spring blooms in coastal waters. Wind-induced upwelling is generated by temperature differences between the warm, light air above the land and the cooler denser air over the sea. In temperate
In geography, temperate or tepid latitudes of the globe lie between the tropics and the polar circles. The changes in these regions between summer and winter are generally relatively moderate, rather than extreme hot or cold...

 latitudes, the temperature contrast is greatly seasonably variable, creating periods of strong upwelling in the spring and summer, to weak or no upwelling in the winter. For example, off the coast of Oregon, there are four or five strong upwelling events separated by periods of little to no upwelling during the six month season of upwelling. In contrast, tropical latitudes have a more constant temperature contrast, creating constant upwelling throughout the year. The Peruvian upwelling, for instance, occurs throughout most of the year, resulting in one of the world's largest marine fisheries for sardines and anchovies.

In anomalous years when the trade winds weaken or reverse, the water that is upwelled is much warmer and low in nutrients, resulting in a sharp reduction in the biomass and phytoplankton
Phytoplankton are the autotrophic component of the plankton community. The name comes from the Greek words φυτόν , meaning "plant", and πλαγκτός , meaning "wanderer" or "drifter". Most phytoplankton are too small to be individually seen with the unaided eye...

 productivity. This event is known as the El Nino-Southern Oscillation
El Niño-Southern Oscillation
El Niño/La Niña-Southern Oscillation, or ENSO, is a quasiperiodic climate pattern that occurs across the tropical Pacific Ocean roughly every five years...

 (ENSO) event. The Peruvian upwelling system is particularly vulnerable to ENSO events, and can cause extreme interannual variability in productivity.

Changes in bathymetry can affect the strength of an upwelling. For example, a submarine ridge
A ridge is a geological feature consisting of a chain of mountains or hills that form a continuous elevated crest for some distance. Ridges are usually termed hills or mountains as well, depending on size. There are several main types of ridges:...

that extends out from the coast will produce more favorable upwelling conditions than neighboring regions. Upwelling typically begins at such ridges and remains strongest at the ridge even after developing in other locations.

External links

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