Submesoscale ocean fronts act as biological hotspot for southern elephant seal

Type Article
Date 2019-04
Language English
Author(s) Siegelman Lia1, 2, 3, O’toole Malcolm4, Flexas Mar2, Rivière Pascal1, Klein Patrice2, 3, 5
Affiliation(s) 1 : Univ. Brest, CNRS, IRD, Ifremer, LEMAR, Plouzané, France
2 : California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, CA, USA
3 : Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, CA, USA
4 : UWA Oceans Institute, Indian Ocean Marine Research Centre, University of Western Australia, Crawley, WA, 6009, Australia
Source Scientific Reports (2045-2322) (Springer Nature), 2019-04 , Vol. 9 , N. 1 , P. 5588 (13p.)
DOI 10.1038/s41598-019-42117-w
Abstract

The area west of the Kerguelen Islands (20–70°E/45–60°S) is characterized by a weak mesoscale activity except for a standing meander region of the Antarctic Circumpolar Current (ACC) localized between 20 and 40°E. A unique bio-physical dataset at high-resolution collected by a southern elephant seal (Mirounga leonina) reveals a conspicuous increase in foraging activity at the standing meander site up to 5 times larger than during the rest of her three-month trip west of the Kerguelen Islands. Here, we propose a physical explanation for such high biological activity based on the study of small-scale fronts with scales of 5 to 20 km, also called submesoscales. The standing meander is associated with intensified frontal dynamics at submesoscale, not observed in the rest of the region. Results shed new light on the spatial distribution of submesoscale fronts in the under-sampled area west of the Kerguelen plateau and emphasize their importance for upper trophic levels. Despite that most elephant seals target foraging grounds east of the Kerguelen Plateau, our findings suggest that excursions to the west are not accidental, and may be explained by the recurrently elevated physical and biological activity of the site. As such, other standing meanders of the ACC may also act as biological hotspots where trophic interactions are stimulated by submesoscale turbulence.

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