Seasonal variability of the Ekman transport and pumping in the upwelling system off central-northern Chile (∼ 30° S) based on a high-resolution atmospheric regional model (WRF)
Abstract. Two physical mechanisms can contribute to coastal upwelling in eastern boundary current systems: offshore Ekman transport due to the predominant alongshore wind stress and Ekman pumping due to the cyclonic wind stress curl, mainly caused by the abrupt decrease in wind stress (drop-off) in a cross-shore band of 100 km. This wind drop-off is thought to be an ubiquitous feature in coastal upwelling systems and to regulate the relative contribution of both mechanisms. It has been poorly studied along the central-northern Chile region because of the lack in wind measurements along the shoreline and of the relatively low resolution of the available atmospheric reanalysis. Here, the seasonal variability in Ekman transport, Ekman pumping and their relative contribution to total upwelling along the central-northern Chile region (∼ 30° S) is evaluated from a high-resolution atmospheric model simulation. As a first step, the simulation is validated from satellite observations, which indicates a realistic representation of the spatial and temporal variability of the wind along the coast by the model. The model outputs are then used to document the fine-scale structures in the wind stress and wind curl in relation to the topographic features along the coast (headlands and embayments). Both wind stress and wind curl had a clear seasonal variability with annual and semiannual components. Alongshore wind stress maximum peak occurred in spring, second increase was in fall and minimum in winter. When a threshold of −3 × 10−5 s−1 for the across-shore gradient of alongshore wind was considered to define the region from which the winds decrease toward the coast, the wind drop-off length scale varied between 8 and 45 km. The relative contribution of the coastal divergence and Ekman pumping to the vertical transport along the coast, considering the estimated wind drop-off length, indicated meridional alternation between both mechanisms, modulated by orography and the intricate coastline. Roughly, coastal divergence predominated in areas with low orography and headlands. Ekman pumping was higher in regions with high orography and the presence of embayments along the coast. In the study region, the vertical transport induced by coastal divergence and Ekman pumping represented 60 and 40 % of the total upwelling transport, respectively. The potential role of Ekman pumping on the spatial structure of sea surface temperature is also discussed.