Observations of divergence and upwelling around Point Loma, California

Moninya Roughan*, Eric J. Terrill, John L. Largier, Mark P. Otero

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

40 Citations (Scopus)


Historical records of near-surface water temperatures in the Southern Californian Bight often show a preferential cooling in the lee of headlands such as Point Dume, Palos Verdes, and Point Loma. At times, this cooler water is associated with an increase in chlorophyll-a as is evident in satellite images of ocean color from the region. Here we combine hydrographic data from a 1 day cruise aboard the RV Roger Revelle (a precursor to the 0304 California Cooperative Oceanic Fisheries Investigations (CalCOFI) cruise) with high-frequency (HF) radar (CODAR) measurements, satellite images, and long-term thermistor records of near-surface temperature to identify a small-scale, isolated upwelling in the lee of Point Loma (32.5°N). Associated with the more saline water downstream of the headland are higher nutrient concentrations, an increase in chlorophyll-a concentration, and a bloom of chain-forming diatoms, indicative of a mature upwelling system. It is suggested that this upwelling is not primarily due to local or remote wind forcing but rather to the divergence of the prevailing southerly flow as it passes the Point Loma headland. Time series of surface vorticity calculated from HF radar measurements of sea surface velocity show that as the flow separates from the headland, relative vorticity increases offshore of the cape. Inshore, the time series of divergence/convergence shows a tendency toward divergence at the surface, indicating a preferential upwelling which appears to raise the thermocline, thus resulting in a flux of cold nutrient-rich water to the surface. In the presence of high nutrients and light, photosynthetic organisms bloom in these upwelled waters as they are advected away from the headland and offshore by the prevailing surface currents.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-11
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of Geophysical Research
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 8 Apr 2005
Externally publishedYes


  • upwelling
  • topography
  • vorticity


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