California Current Ecosystem LTER

"Cat" filtering plankton from the Point Conception study area, June 2011

Key Research Findings:

CCE scientists discovered two distinct ways in which cool, nutrient-rich water moves to the ocean surface (upwells) to create habitat for different sizes of zooplankton. Fish populations respond to these size differences -- the Pacific sardine prefers smaller zooplankton and the northern anchovy prefers larger -- with important implications for commercial fisheries.
CCE research uncovered how long-term climate changes markedly affect the California Current System, among the world's most economically important ocean regions. Fish habitat and other important ecosystem services are affected by reduced oxygen levels, warmer surface waters, diminished zooplankton populations, and decreased water transparency.
CCE scientists developed a model that accurately predicts how the growth of phytoplankton at the base of the ocean's food web varies with depth and from inshore to offshore. These results help scientists forecast how physical and chemical changes affect marine fisheries and biodiversity.


The California Current Ecosystem (CCE) is a coastal upwelling biome, as found along the eastern margins of all major ocean basins. These are among the most productive coastal ecosystems in the world ocean. The CCE sustains active fisheries for a variety of finfish and marine invertebrates, modulates weather patterns and the hydrologic cycle of much of the western United States, and plays a vital role in the economy of myriad coastal communities.

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This new site will build on what has been learned from the unparalleled suite of coastal observations developed by CalCOFI (the California Cooperative Oceanic Fisheries Investigations) since its inception in 1949, but move far beyond that program. The new site will focus specifically on the mechanisms leading to transitions between ecosystem states.

Research Topics:

Comparative studies across sites with interests in alternate stable states, El Niño and lower-frequency forcing, and the role of top-down impacts on ecosystem dynamics. A long term goal for this site is to develop a mechanistic, coupled bio-physical model for understanding and forecasting the consequences of El Niño and low-frequency climate forcing on pelagic ecosystems of the California Current and similar biomes.


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