Kuroshio Current

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Map showing 5 circles. The first is between western Australia and eastern Africa. The second is between eastern Australia and western South America. The third is between Japan and western North America. Of the two in the Atlantic, one is in hemisphere.
North Atlantic
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North Atlantic
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North Atlantic
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Indian
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North
Pacific
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South
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Map showing 5 circles. The first is between western Australia and eastern Africa. The second is between eastern Australia and western South America. The third is between Japan and western North America. Of the two in the Atlantic, one is in hemisphere.
The Kuroshio Current is the west side of the clockwise North Pacific ocean gyre

The Kuroshio (黒潮), also known as the Black or Japan Current (日本海流, Nihon Kairyū) or the Black Stream, is a north-flowing, warm ocean current on the west side of the North Pacific Ocean. It was named for the deep blue of its waters. Like the Gulf Stream in the North Atlantic, the Kuroshio is a powerful western boundary current and forms the western limb of the North Pacific Subtropical Gyre. The Kuroshio Current plays major roles in both physical and biological processes of the North Pacific Ocean. Nutrient and sediment transport, influences on major pacific storm tracks and regional climates, and Pacific mode water formation are some of the major functions resulting from the pole-ward flow and input of warm equatorial waters northward by the Kuroshio Current.[1][2][3] Additionally, the current is a biologically rich region supporting a strong fishing industry and many different trophic levels of marine life, which are greatly enhanced by the high nutrient transport. The South China Sea for example has relatively low nutrient concentrations in its upper waters, but experiences enhanced biological productivity due to the input from the Kuroshio Current Intrusion.[4] Ongoing research centered around the Kuroshio Current's response to climate change predicts a strengthening in surface flows of this western boundary current which contrasts the predicted changes in the Atlantic Ocean.[5]

Physical properties[edit]

Averaged winter sea surface temperatures in the western Pacific Ocean using satellite data. The Kuroshio current is warm, compared to cooler waters in the Yellow Sea, and Sea of Japan.

The Kuroshio is a warm current—24 °C (75 °F) annual average sea-surface temperature—about 100 kilometres (62 mi) wide and produces frequent small to meso-scale eddies. The Kuroshio originates from the Pacific North Equatorial Current, which splits in two at the east coast of Luzon, Philippines, to form the southward-flowing Mindanao Current and the more significant northward-flowing Kuroshio Current.[6] East of Taiwan, the Kuroshio enters the Sea of Japan through a deep break in the Ryukyu island chain known as the Yonaguni Depression. The Kuroshio then continues northwards and parallel to the Ryukyu islands, steered by the deepest part of the Sea of Japan, the Okinawa Trough, before leaving the Sea of Japan and re-entering the Pacific through the Tokara Strait.[7] It then flows along the southern margin of Japan but meanders significantly.[8] At the Bōsō Peninsula, the Kuroshio finally separates from the Japanese coast and travels eastward as the Kuroshio Extension.[9] The Kuroshio Current is the Pacific analogue of the Gulf Stream in the Atlantic Ocean,[10] transporting warm, tropical water northward toward the polar region.

Similarly to the Gulf Stream in the Atlantic Ocean, the Kuroshio Current provides warm ocean surface temperatures, and significant moisture to the atmosphere. These characteristics of the Kuroshio Current can produce and sustain tropical cyclones. Tropical cyclones also known as typhoons are formed when atmospheric instability, warm ocean surface temperatures, and moist air are combined. On average the Western North Pacific Ocean experiences 25 typhoons annually.[11] There is a strong seasonality with the majority of typhoons occurring from July through October during northern hemisphere summer.[11] Typhoons typically form where the Kuroshio Current is the warmest near the equator. Typhoons tend to track along the warm water transported by the current poleward until they dissipate.[12]

The strength (transport) of the Kuroshio varies along its path. Within the Sea of Japan, observations suggest that the Kuroshio transport is relatively steady at about 25Sv[13][14] (25 million cubic metres per second). The Kuroshio strengthens significantly when it rejoins the Pacific Ocean, reaching 65Sv (65 million cubic metres per second) southeast of Japan,[7] although this transport has significant seasonal variability.[15]

The Kuroshio's counterparts are the North Pacific Current to the north, the California Current to the east, and the North Equatorial Current to the south. The warm waters of the Kuroshio Current sustain the coral reefs of Japan, the northernmost coral reefs in the world. The part of the Kuroshio that branches into the Sea of Japan is called Tsushima Current (対馬海流, Tsushima Kairyū).

Western Pacific Ocean shaded relief map. The deep ocean is dark blue, shallow areas are light blue, and seamounts are indicated by an intense shift in color hue.

There is some debate as to whether the path of the Kuroshio was different in the past. It has been proposed on the basis of proxy evidence that a fall in sea-level and tectonics may have prevented the Kuroshio from entering the Sea of Japan during the last glacial period, instead remaining entirely within the Pacific.[16] However, recent evidence from other proxies and ocean models has alternatively suggested that the Kuroshio path was relatively unaltered,[17][18] possibly as far back as 700,000 years ago.[19]

Sediment Transport[edit]

The Kuroshio Current is an agent of deep sea erosion and sediment transport. This erosion has been observed offshore of Southern Taiwan on the Kenting Plateau, and is likely caused by the strong bottom currents which increase in velocity along this plateau.[20] The bottom water accelerates as it travels from a depth of 3500m to a depth around 400-700m. This increase in speed exacerbates its eroding abilities. This erosion has revealed the Kuroshio Knoll, a 3 km x 7 km bean-shaped elevated flat area 60–70 m below surface levels in comparison to the rest of the Plateau which located at around 400-700m.[2]

The Kenting Plateau and surrounding area demonstrate the eroding qualities of the Kuroshio Current.[20] The particle size of the sand varies from the edge of the Plateau into the deep sea, with fine sand particles eroded away from the plateau. Some of these fine sand particles have settled into a dune field while the remaining sediment is moved and deposited throughout the region by the Kuroshio Current.[2]

The Kuroshio Current also transports Yangtze River sediment. The amount of transport is highly dependent on the relationship between the Kuroshio Current intrusion, the China Coastal Current, and the Taiwan Warm Current. The Yangtze River sediment is being deposited on the East China Sea inner shelf rather than the deep sea due to the three currents' interaction with one another.[21]

The Kuroshio Current, as idealized from space. The resulting circulation and eddying demonstrate the mixing caused by the input of warm equatorial water poleward. Image by NASA Goddard Space Flight Center.

Sediments often have certain elemental characteristic qualities. Taiwan sediment notably contains illite and chlorite. These traceable compounds have been found all the way through the Kuroshio Current up into its branch through the Kuroshio Current Intrusion in the South China Sea.[22] The South China Sea branch of the Kuroshio and the cyclonic eddy west of Luzon Island impact Luzon and Pearl River sediments. The Luzon sediment containing high levels of smectite is unable to travel northwestward. The Pearl River contains high levels of kaolinite and titanium (Ti). The Pearl River sediment is trapped above the abyssal basin between Hainan Island and the Pearl River mouth.[21]

Eddies[edit]

There are indications that eddies contribute to the preservation and survival of fish larvae transported by the Kuroshio.[23] Plankton biomass fluctuates yearly and is typically highest in the eddy area of the Kuroshio’s edge. Warm-core rings are not known for having high productivity. However, there is evidence of equal distribution of biological productivity throughout the warm-core rings from the Kuroshio Current, supported by the upwelling at the periphery and the convective mixing caused by the cooling of surface water as the rings move north of the current. The thermostad is the deep mixed layer that has discrete boundaries and uniform temperature. Within this layer, nutrient-rich water is brought to the surface, which generates a burst of primary production. Given that the water in the core of a ring has a different temperature regime than the shelf waters, there are times when a warm-core ring is undergoing its spring bloom while the surrounding shelf waters are not.[24]

Western Pacific Ocean tropical cyclone tracks compiled from 1980 to 2005.

There are many complex interactions within warm-core rings and thus, lifetime productivity is not very different from the surrounding shelf water. A study from 1998 [24] found that the primary productivity within a warm-core ring was almost the same as in the cold jet outside it, with evidence of upwelling of nutrients within the ring. In addition, there was discovery of dense populations of phytoplankton at the nutricline within a ring, presumably supported by the upward mixing of nutrients.[24] Furthermore, there have been acoustic studies in the warm-core ring, which showed intense sound scattering from zooplankton and fish populations in the ring and very sparse acoustic signals outside of it.

Typhoons[edit]

Typhoons can produce intense winds which push on the surface layer of the ocean for brief periods of time. These winds induce the warmer surface layer of the ocean to mix with the deeper cooler layer of water that is situated below the pycnocline. This mixing introduces nutrients from deeper cooler water to the warmer surface layer of the ocean.[25] Organisms such as phytoplankton and algae use these newly introduced nutrients to grow. In 2003, two typhoons induced significant surface layer mixing as they passed through the region. This mixing directly produced two algal bloom events in the North Western Pacific Ocean that negatively affected Japan.[26]

Nutrient Transport[edit]

Annual average chlorophyll concentrations are shaded, and annual average surface (A) nitrate and (B) phosphate concentrations are contoured. The Kuroshio Current transports nitrate and phosphate from the South China Sea, increasing productivity.

The Kuroshio Current is a nutrient stream and is ranked as a moderately high productivity ecosystem with primary production of 150 to 300 grams (5 to 11 oz) of carbon per square meter per year based on SeaWiFS global primary productivity estimates. The coastal areas are highly productive and the maximum chlorophyll value is found around 100 metres (330 ft) depth.[3] The nutrient rich water in the Kuroshio Current is surrounded by ambient water of the same density with lower relative nutrient levels. The downstream of the Kuroshio Current receives large amounts of nutrients at rates of 100-280 kmol N*s-1.[27] Nutrient injections from deeper layers into surface sunlit laters are found where the Kuroshio Current flows over shallow areas and seamounts. These are in the Okinawa Trough and the Tokara Strait.[28] The Tokara Strait has high cyclonic activity where the Kuroshio Current passes through. This in combination with the Coriolis effect causes intense mixing along the continental shelf.[28] This upwelling and nutrient injection into surface layers is essential for primary production because these vital nutrients would otherwise be inaccessible to phytoplankton which need to remain in upper layers where sunlight is available for them to perform photosynthesis. The constant transport of nutrient rich waters to regions with high levels of light therefore supports increased photosynthesis. This photosynthesis then allows for primary producer growth, helping to support the rest of the ecosystem.

Marine Life[edit]

The Oyashio Current colliding with the Kuroshio Current near Hokkaido. When two currents collide, they create eddies. Phytoplankton growing in the surface waters become concentrated along the boundaries of these eddies, tracing out the motions of the water.

Biodiversity[edit]

Understanding the biodiversity of an ecosystem is important in determining the health of a region and can be an indicator for changes in the environment. The Kuroshio Current is a biodiversity hotspot, meaning the waters circulating through the region are highly fertile and are host to many different species, yet many of its resident organisms are at risk of becoming endangered or are already at the brink of extinction as a result of local and/or global human activity. Many of these threatened or endangered species are at risk because of overfishing and overharvesting.[29]

Invertebrates[edit]

Foraminifera[edit]

The Kuroshio Current intrusion redistributive impacts are seen with foraminifera species G. ruber and P. obliquiloculate. The distribution of these species in comparison to their standard dwelling depths demonstrates the redistributing power of the Kuroshio Current intrusion.[30] G. ruber is normally a surface dweller and was found at depths of 1000 meters along the Kuroshio Current. P. obliquiloculate which normally resides between 25 and 100 m, was found deep in the abyssal basin (>1000m).[30]

Phytoplankton[edit]

Phytoplankton, like in most epipelagic and mesopelagic systems, are the primary source of biological energy for the Kuroshio Current. Warm sea surface temperatures and low turbidity in the region lead to clearer waters which allows for deeper penetration of sunlight and an extension of the epipelagic zone. These particular characteristics correspond well with the requirements of two specific cyanobacteria: Prochlorococcus and Synechococcus.[31] Prochlorococcus is in fact the dominating species of picophytoplankton within the Kuroshio Current and these two species working together are speculated to be responsible for as much as half of the fixation of CO2 in the entire Kuroshio Current photic zone.[31] Further, there are substantial dust deposition events in these regions due to Asian Dust Storms from the Saharan desert.[31] These depositions of phosphate and trace metals influence growth in both Prochlorococcus and Synechococcus as well as in diatoms.[31]

Diatoms and Trichodesmium (a nitrogen fixing cyanobacterium genus, present in the surface waters of the Kuroshio Current) are also speculated to play an important role in the redistribution of carbon and nitrogen out of the euphotic zone in this region which is caused by the upwelling and subsequent transport of nitrate to surface waters.[32]

At least ten genera of seaweed reside in waters in and around the Kuroshio Current.[29] Caulerpa, is a green algae that grows densely near shore on the periphery of the Kuroshio Current while brown and red algae also flourish adjacent the current, and like other photosynthesizing organisms, benefit from the nutrient transport and low turbidity of the region.[29]

Zooplankton[edit]

An increase in zooplankton biomass occurs in the significantly lower water temperatures of the upwelling sites within the Kuroshio Current due to increased NO3-N concentrations, protein and lipid content that this particular upwelling event surfaces.[33] It has been suggested that copepods have been transported from the Kuroshio Current into southwest Taiwan through the Luzon Strait. The Kuroshio Current intrusion through the Luzon Strait, and further into the South China Sea, may explain why copepods show such a high diversity in adjacent waters of the intrusion areas.[34] The Kuroshio Current intrusion has a major influence on C. sinicus and E. concinna, which are two copepod species with higher index values for winter and are known to originate from the East China Sea.[35] During the southwestern monsoon season, the South China Sea Surface Current moves northward during the summer toward the Kuroshio Current. As a result of this water circulation and mixing, the zooplankton communities in the boundary waters are unique, more nutritious, and diverse.[33]

Like copepods and diatoms, tunicates, specifically salps and doliolids, also play an important role on the biogeochemical cycle as well as on the food chain.[36] Thaliacean (salp and doliolid) blooms have even been found to cause harmful feeding conditions for pelagic fishes in the region.[36]

Another important contributor to the Kuroshio Current system food chain are the fish larvae throughout the current. A study conducted over seven transect crossings in the Kuroshio current concluded that of 7,819 fish larvae collected, 72% of all species belonged to family Myctophid, or lanternfishes.[37] The Kuroshio Current also plays a large role in the transport of jack mackerel larvae and eggs from jack mackerel nursery grounds in shallow waters to the south west of the current.[38]

Coral[edit]

Acropora hyacinthus is a reef-building coral native to coral reefs in the Kuroshio Current region.

The coral reef within the Kuroshio Current resides at a higher latitude than any other reef placement in the world (33.48°N).[39] An important reef-building coral to this area, Heliopora coerulea, has become threatened due to anthropogenic stressors to its environment, such as dynamite fishing.[29] Studies confirming low genotypic diversity within the species further emphasizes this blue coral’s threatened status.[40]

Acropora japonica, Acropora secale, and Acropora hyacinthus, are 3 more reef-building corals in the region.[41] These species utilize symbiotic relationships with zooxanthellae, peridinin and pyrrhoxanthin as a source of carotenoids.[41]

In addition to anthropogenic devastation, these corals also have predators in the region such as the Crown-of-thorns starfish, Acanthaster planci, and a regional sea snail, Drupella fragum.[41] When conditions are favorable for A. planci, the starfish is known to wreak havoc on entire coral communities as well as the ecosystems these coral reefs support. A Crown-of-thorns starfish outbreak in conjunction with anthropogenic stressors can cause irreversible reef-system damage.[42][43]

Squid[edit]

The Japanese flying squid (Todarodes pacificus) has three stocks that breed in winter, summer, and autumn. The winter spawning group is associated with the Kuroshio Current. After spawning in January to April in the East China Sea, the larvae and juveniles travel north with the Kuroshio Current. They are turned inshore and are caught between the islands of Honshu and Hokkaido during the summer. The summer spawning is in another part of the East China Sea, from which the larvae are entrained into the Tsushima current that flows north between the islands of Japan and the mainland. Afterward, the current meets a southward flowing cold coastal current, the Liman Current, and the summer-spawned squid are fished along the boundary between the two. This illustrates the use of these western boundary currents as a rapid transport that enable the eggs and larvae to develop during winter in warm water, while the adults travel with minimum energy expenditure to exploit the rich northern feeding grounds. Studies have reported that annual catches in Japan have gradually increased since the late 1980s and it has been proposed that changing environmental conditions have caused the autumn and winter spawning areas in the Tsushima Strait and near the Goto Islands to overlap. In addition, winter spawning sites over the continental shelf and slope in the East China Sea are expanding.

Vertebrates[edit]

Parrotfish (Scarus frenatus) are reef fish commonly found in the Kuroshio Current reef systems.

Fish[edit]

The Kuroshio Current is home to thousands of fish species occupying the nutrient rich and diverse waters in this region. Resident fish range from reef fish, such as the rabbitfish and parrotfish, to pelagic fishes, such as sardines, anchovies, mackerel, sailfish, and sharks.[29] The biomass of fish populations is influenced by primary production rates, biomass of lower trophic levels, and oceanic and atmospheric conditions. In the Kuroshio-Oyashio region, fish catches depend on oceanographic conditions, such as the Oyashio's southward intrusion and the Kuroshio's large meander south of Honshu. The Oyashio Current contains subarctic water that is much colder and fresher than the resident water east of Honshu. Thus, the fish intrusion affects presence, biomass, and catch of species such as pollock, sardine, and anchovy. When the Oyashio current is well developed and protrudes southward, the cold waters are favorable for capturing sardines. The Kuroshio’s larger meander development correlates with sardine availability for catch due to the proximity of the Kuroshio meander to the southern spawning grounds of sardine.

Marine Reptiles[edit]

Five out of the seven sea turtle species, loggerheads (Caretta caretta), green (Chelonia mydas), hawksbill (Eretmochelys imbricata), leatherbacks (Dermochelys coriacea), and Olive ridleys (Lepidochelys olivacea), utilize the Kuroshio Current to access warm waters the current supplies.[44] Female sea turtles will additionally utilize the transport potential of the current to access the warm nesting beaches of Japan’s shores.[44] Additionally, adolescent green and hawksbill turtles utilize the current transport to access waters surrounding Japan.[45]

Marine Mammals[edit]

Marine mammals such as seals, sea lions and cetaceans also make use of the high biodiversity within the Kuroshio Current. Subsequent feeding grounds of the region are utilized by three whales of the genus Balaenoptera, Common Minke (Balaenoptera acutorostrata), Sei Whale (Balaenoptera borealis) and Bryde’s Whale (Balaenoptera edeni).[46] Japanese sardines and mackerel eggs, larvae and juveniles are among the baleen whales’ primary food sources in these feeding grounds.[46]

Charismatic megafauna odontocetes, are included among species that utilize the current’s beneficial characteristics. Odontocetes in the region include the Spinner dolphin (Stenella longirostris), short-finned pilot whale (Globicephala macrorhynchus), common bottlenose dolphin (Tursiops truncatus), Dall’s porpoise (Phocoenoides dalli), Risso’s dolphin (Grampus griseus) and the Killer whale (Orcinus orca).[47] These top-tier trophic predators can serve as units in developing conservation management in this region.

Carbonate Chemistry[edit]

It is estimated that the ocean uptakes approximately one third of the CO2 produced by humans. One of the more significant sinks for atmospheric CO2 is the Eastern China Sea, in which an estimated 22%-50% of the CO2 uptake rate in the Eastern China Sea can be accounted for by the Dissolved Inorganic Carbon (DIC) transported there annually by the Kuroshio Current. Observed high DIC transport by the Kuroshio, however, is estimated to lead to DIC oversaturation. This is thought to potentially impair rates of CO2 sequestration in the Eastern China Sea in the future.[48]

DIC in the Kuroshio varies depending on several environmental conditions associated with its different water masses (surface, subsurface and deep Kuroshio). Overall, in each layer DIC tends to increase with depth, and density, and decrease with increasing temperature. pCO2 is found to decrease with increasing temperature in both surface and subsurface Kuroshio waters. In its sub surface waters, DIC is found to increase with density and decrease with salinity. Of the different layers in the Kuroshio, its surface water DIC is more likely than other layers to vary based on phytoplankton presence because of their uptake of CO2 during photosynthesis. This is unlike that of subsurface waters, which tend to be more primarily influenced by transport for DIC enriched waters of the South China Sea.[48]

Kuroshio surface waters are also found to have the most biologically related factors of carbonate chemistry (pH, Particulate Organic Carbon, and saturation state) and the lowest levels of inorganically related factors (DIC, pCO2, and Revelle Factor). These features are indicative of a high potential for Kuroshio surface waters to be a significant sink for atmospheric carbon.[48] In fact, the Kuroshio Extension region is classified as the strongest sink for atmospheric CO2 in the North Pacific. This is especially true in the winter when higher amounts of human-produced CO2 are taken up in the Kuroshio Extension region when compared with the summer. This is likely explained by cooler temperatures facilitating the solubility of CO2 in ocean water. As atmospheric CO2 levels continue to increase, so does CO2 uptake in the Kuroshio, making this seasonality more dramatic.[49]

Climate Implications[edit]

Western boundary currents are integrated parts in the world's climatic balance. The Kuroshio Current plays a role in influencing regional climate and weather patterns mainly through the input of warm waters from lower latitudes northward into the western edge of the Pacific.[1][50] Along with the other western boundary currents in the Pacific, the Kuroshio Current is subject to seasonal changes that manifest in different flow rates, bifurcation latitudes, water salinities, and more. Circulation within the Pacific Ocean is largely influenced by this transport of warm salty water north along the Western boundary, concurrently providing structure to the western edge of the North Pacific Gyre.[50] The resulting heat fluxes in this area represent some of the largest heat exchanges from ocean to atmosphere within the entire Pacific Basin, being more pronounced during the winter season. This effect supports unstable atmospheric conditions, causing monsoonal rain events through the summertime and strengthening typhoon storms as they pass over the current.[1] The climate of many Asian countries has been affected by these processes for millions of years.[50]

Mode Water Formation[edit]

As the Kuroshio Current separates from the equatorial current and flows northward, warm water from the Western Pacific Warm Pool segues into the north west Pacific Ocean Basin. Principal heat flux in the Kuroshio occurs via the Kuroshio Extension between 132°E and 160°E and 30°N to 35°N, depending on the latitude where the extension splits off from the Kuroshio Current along the coast of Japan.[51][52] The process of warm water injection into the open ocean plays an important role in the formation of North Pacific Subtropical Mode waters and the regulation of sea surface temperatures, affecting moisture transport across the western Pacific Basin.[53][53] North Pacific subtropical mode waters are created when Kuroshio Extension waters lose large amounts of heat, moisture, and salt to the cold and dry northerly winds during boreal wintertime months, creating dense surface waters prone to sink and cause convection. The temperature range of the sinking North Pacific Subtropical Mode Waters characteristically falls between 16 °C and 19 °C, however exact temperatures and depths to which these waters sink varies annually depending on the efficiency of water transportation by the extension, which is a function of atmospheric and mesoscale eddy conditions.[51] The resulting homogenous water mass typically separates the seasonal pycnocline from the surface waters in the mid to late summer months, remaining stratified below the warmer surface waters until shoaling back towards the surface with the mixed layer due to perturbations in the fall and winter. The contrast in water temperatures can be stark, and the lateral advection of this water mass can be traced for thousands of kilometers.[52] Mode water formation is variable and largely dependent on the flow intensity of the Kuroshio Extension and atmospheric heat flux efficiencies.[53] Heat flux processes sometimes experience feedbacks that enhance water temperature contrasts and can cause sea surface temperature features to last well past the end of the boreal winter. For example, with residually cooled surface waters in the late spring and early summer months, warm moist air from the south can cause low cloud formation and reflection of solar radiation, extending temporal sea surface cooling.[1]

The Kuroshio Extension is a dynamic but relatively unstable system, with variability in the associated bifurcation latitude occurring on interannual time scales. The cause of these variations and their effects on the surface flow and total transport of waters has been studied extensively, with recent advances in sea surface height satellite altimetry methods allowing for observational studies on larger timescales.[54][53] Studies suggest that more northerly bifurcation latitudes have been historically correlated with greater surface water transport and mode water formation, associated with more linear and direct flow paths closer to the coasts of Japan and Taiwan during the wintertime months.[55]

Climate Change[edit]

The North Equatorial Current (NEC) splits into the southward flowing Mindanao Current and the northward flowing Kuroshio Current.

Climate change, specifically with respect to increasing sea surface temperatures and decreasing salinities, has been predicted to strengthen the surface flow of the Kuroshio Current as well as other western boundary currents across the Pacific.[1] These changes are principally thought to be a product of wind stress and surface warming resulting from the increased stratification of the surface layers of future oceans.[5] The predicted lasting effects of warming surface oceans starkly contrast between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, where the Atlantic will experience a slowing of the Atlantic meridional overturning circulation while the Pacific western boundary currents, including the Kuroshio Current, will strengthen. This is a result of a potential poleward shifting of westerly winds within the Hadley Cell, increasing the total wind stress curl on the subtropical gyre. The effects of these predictions could potentially cause an increased geostrophic circulation and subsequently, an intensification of the northern part of the Kuroshio Current, increasing flow velocities by almost double.[50] Additionally, the flow of the current is predicted to be strengthened from its point of bifurcation near the equator all the way to the Kuroshio Extension. This was outlined in a study using the Coupled Model Intercomparison Project (CMIP5), ultimately showing Kuroshio Current interaction with the northern extremity of the subtropical gyre, contrasting older predictions of simple gyre "spin up" forced acceleration.[5] Finally, the general observed southward migration of both the NEC and SEC subcurrent bifurcation latitudes over the past thirty years has been consistent with a strengthening of western boundary currents. With shifting winds and increased gyre circulation in conjunction with a "business as usual" anthropogenic carbon input scenario, bifurcation latitudes are predicted to continue on a southward migration into the future, contributing to the intensifying Kuroshio Current.[1]

Increased stratification and the strengthening of the surface layer current creates conditions in which the opposite effect can occur in the deeper layer of the Kuroshio Current, which has been proposed to slow. The exact mechanisms causing this change are not well elucidated, however wind stress changes within the gyre in addition to the increased stratification near the surface is theorized to enhance surface and deep ocean layer separation and maintain different responses to warming oceans.[56]

Economic Considerations[edit]

A school of Pacific Jack Mackerel. Jack Mackerel represent a large fishing industry in the Pacific: around 1.5 million pounds were harvested in 2020 by California fisheries alone, creating $272,000 in revenue according to the NOAA Fisheries commercial fishing landings database.

The Kuroshio Current can be a useful for ships using it as a shipping channel. Ships that travel with the current can save time and fuel usage. However, ships that travel against the current will spend more time and fuel to compensate for the water flowing against the shipping vessel.[57]

Jack Mackerel populations are one of the most important fishery resources in Japan, Korea and Taiwan. As the Kuroshio flows northeastward from northeast of Taiwan along the shelf slope of the Eastern China Sea, it carries Jack Mackerel eggs and larvae to southern Japan and Honshu Island.[58] These larvae are caught and then raised in aquaculture through adulthood and harvested.[59] Other important fish to industry include pollock, sardine, and anchovy.[60]

There are many developing port cities along the Kuroshio Current. While the Kuroshio Current is historically known to support many fisheries where it meets with the Oyashio current, this region is still recovering from the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant accident. In 2011, a magnitude 9.0 earthquake triggered a devastating tsunami in 2011.[61] This tsunami inundated more than 200 miles of Japan's coastline. It killed more than 18,500 people and set off a nuclear disaster at the Fukushima nuclear plant, releasing radiocesium into the surrounding waters. While local water bodies were the most severely affected, this radiocesium was transported as far as the entire North Pacific Ocean by the North Pacific Current which is formed by the collision of the Kuroshio and the Oyashio current.[62] Local fisheries lost over 90% of their fleets and were unable to resume operations for up to a year after the accident. The local economy has been working to return to pre-tsunami levels but, even now, numbers haven’t reached nearly the levels they were before the accident. No catches are made within a 10 km radius to the accident cite and even catches outside of that zone are subject to inspection for radioactive materials, costing fisheries both time and money.[63] Minamisanriku had most of the town's port and aquaculture facilities restored by 2014 and as of 2018, reconstruction of Iwate and Miyagi, the Japanese Prefectures, key infrastructure was near completion.[64] Local Japanese fishing fleets hauled 5,928 tons of seafood product valued at over 2.21 billion yen (19.342 million U.S. dollars) in 2021.[64]

Changes in the Kuroshio Current and its warming conditions have impacted pilot whale migration. These animals are considered a delicacy but hunting is strictly regulated and transitions in migration timing is impacting those who depend on these animals as a source of income.[65]

References[edit]

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