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Western Boundary Current (WBC) regions are largely thought to be hotspots of productivity, biodiversity, and carbon export. The distinct biogeographical characteristics of the biomes bordering WBC fronts change abruptly from stable, subtropical waters to highly seasonal subpolar gyres. The large scale convergence of these distinct water masses brings different ecosystems into close proximity allowing for cross-frontal exchange. Although the strong horizontal density gradient maintains environmental gradients, instabilities lead to the formation of meanders, filaments, and rings that mediate the exchange of physical, chemical and ecological properties across the front. WBC systems also act as large-scale conduits, transporting tracers over thousands of kilometers. Our understanding of bio-physical interactions in the WBCs, however, is limited by the paucity of in situ observations which concurrently resolve chemical, biological and physical properties at fine spatial and temporal scales (1-10km, days).
The Kuroshio Extension is the eastern arm of the Kuroshio western boundary current characterized by a strong latitudinal density front, high levels of eddy kinetic energy, and high chlorophyll. In this talk I will present results from a combination of modeling and observational studies that collectively support the hypothesis that the Kuroshio Extension is an ecological and biogeochemical hotspot, and demonstrate that this WBC supports enhanced phytoplankton biodiversity, drives strong localized vertical nutrient supply and increased export production relative to surrounding areas.