Research brief: Nutrient transport via the Indonesian Throughflow

The maritime continent region (above) is critical to global climate and our ability to understand it.  It is the site of one of the major atmospheric convection centers, where condensation releases remarkable energy, fuelling global atmospheric circulation.  It is also a choke point in the upper ocean thermohaline circulation, connecting the Pacific and Indian Ocean basins and their heat, salt, and other properties at low latitudes.

The extreme atmospheric and oceanic variability here have thus far made it a roadblock to successful global climate model predictions.

New research published Geophysical Research Letters contributes an important piece to the puzzle, revealing how nutrient transport in the region varied over a three-year field study.

“Indonesian Throughflow waters spill into the eastern Indian Ocean, carrying significant amounts of nutrients required by biological production”, said lead author Dr. Jennifer Ayers.

“They’re large enough to potentially support an area of new productivity several times the size of the Mediterranean Sea”.

Strong mixing in the Indonesian Seas brings nutrient-rich deep waters into the shallows.  The result is downstream enrichment of the Indian Ocean, particularly from the surface to ~300-400m.  Nutrients in these upper waters are important because they are the most likely to become available to primary producers.

Primary producers are important as a building block for ecosystems, as well as their ability to draw COout of the atmosphere.

“The nutrient supply to the Indian Ocean is extremely variable, affected by both short-term phenomenon such as the monsoon winds, and longer time scale atmospheric forcing such as the El-Niño/Southern Oscillation and the Indian Ocean Dipole”, said Jennifer Ayers.  “Sometimes the direction of nutrient transport even reverses”

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