The transition zone chlorophyll front, a dynamic global feature defining migration and forage habitat for marine resources
Pelagic ecosystem dynamics on all temporal scales may be driven by the dynamics of very specialized oceanic habitats. One such habitat is the basin-wide chlorophyll front located at the boundary between the low chlorophyll subtropical gyres and the high chlorophyll subarctic gyres. Global satellite maps of surface chlorophyll clearly show this feature in all oceans. In the North Pacific, the front is over 8000 km long and seasonally migrates north and south about 1000 km. In the winter this front is located at about 30-35°N latitude and in the summer at about 40-45°N. It is a zone of surface convergence where cool, vertically mixed, high chlorophyll, surface water on the north side sinks beneath warm, stratified, low chlorophyll water on the south side. Satellite telemetry data on movements of loggerhead turtles and detailed fisheries data for albacore tuna show that both apex predators travel along this front as they migrate across the North Pacific. The front is easily monitored with ocean color satellite remote sensing. A change in the position of the TZCF between 1997 and 1998 appears to have altered the spatial distribution of loggerhead turtles. The position and dynamics of the front varied substantially between the 1998 El Niño and the 1999 La Niña. For example, from May to July 1999 the transition zone chlorophyll front (TZCF) remained between about 35°N and 40°N latitude showing very little meandering, whereas in 1998, during the same period, the TZCF exhibited considerable meandering and greater monthly latitudinal movement. Catch rates for albacore were considerably higher in 1998 than in 1999, and we hypothesize that a meandering TZCF creates regions of convergence, which enhances the foraging habitat for apex predators along the front.