Fronts in Large Marine Ecosystems

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Oceanic fronts shape marine ecosystems; therefore front mapping and characterization are among the most important aspects of physical oceanography. Here we report on the first global remote sensing survey of fronts in the Large Marine Ecosystems (LME). This survey is based on a unique frontal data archive assembled at University of Rhode Island. Thermal fronts were automatically derived with the edge detection algorithm of Cayula and Cornillon (1992, 1995, 1996) from 12 years of twice-daily, global, 9-km resolution satellite sea surface temperature (SST) fields to produce synoptic (nearly instantaneous) frontal maps, and to compute the long-term mean frequency of occurrence of SST fronts and their gradients. These synoptic and long-term maps were used to identify major quasi-stationary fronts and to derive provisional frontal distribution maps for all LMEs. Since SST fronts are typically collocated with fronts in other water properties such as salinity, density and chlorophyll, digital frontal paths from SST frontal maps can be used in studies of physical-biological correlations at fronts. Frontal patterns in several exemplary LMEs are described and compared, including those for: the East and West Bering Sea LMEs, Sea of Okhotsk LME, East China Sea LME, Yellow Sea LME, North Sea LME, East and West Greenland Shelf LMEs, Newfoundland-Labrador Shelf LME, Northeast and Southeast US Continental Shelf LMEs, Gulf of Mexico LME, and Patagonian Shelf LME. Seasonal evolution of frontal patterns in major upwelling zones reveals an order-of-magnitude growth of frontal scales from summer to winter. A classification of LMEs with regard to the origin and physics of their respective dominant fronts is presented. The proposed classification lends itself to comparative studies of frontal ecosystems. © 2009 Elsevier Ltd.

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Progress in Oceanography