Humboldt Current

Humboldt Current
The Humboldt Current is a cold, low salinity ocean current that extends along the West Coast of South America from Northern Peru to the southern tip of Chile. The waters of the Humboldt Current system flow in the direction of the Equator and can extend 1,000 kilometers offshore. The Humboldt Current Large Marine Ecosystem (LME), named after the Prussian naturalist Alexander von Humboldt, is one of the major upwelling systems of the world, supporting an extraordinary abundance of marine life.

The Humboldt Current LME is considered a Class I, highly productive (>300 gC/m2-yr), ecosystem. It is the most productive marine ecosystem in the world, as well as the largest upwelling system. The cold, nutrient-rich water brought to the surface by upwelling drives the system’s extraordinary productivity. The Humboldt’s high rates of primary and secondary productivity support the world’s largest fisheries. Upwelling occurs off Peru year-round but off Chile only during the spring and summer, because of the displacement of the subtropical center of high pressure during the summer.

Approximately 18-20% of the world’s fish catch comes from the Humboldt Current LME. The species are mostly pelagic: sardines, anchovies and jack mackerel. The LME’s high productivity supports other important fishery resources as well as marine mammals. Periodically, the upwelling that drives the system’s productivity is disrupted by the El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO) event. When this occurs, fish abundance and distribution are significantly affected, often leading to stock crashes and cascading social and economic impacts. These events have led to sequential changes, where sardines and anchovies have replaced each other periodically as the dominant species in the ecosystem. These species changes can have negative consequences for the fishing industry and the economies of the countries that fish the system.

The Humboldt Current is also largely responsible for the aridity that prevails in northern Chile and coastal areas of Peru and southern Ecuador. Marine air is cooled by the current and thus is not conducive to generating precipitation (although clouds and fog are produced).

The Peru current consists of cold water and runs on the northwest coast of Peru.

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