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Upwelling is a process in which deep, cold water rises toward the surface. Winds blowing across the ocean surface push water away. Colder water then rises up from beneath the surface to replace the water that was pushed away.

Upwelling cartoon.jpg

Upwelling occurs in the open ocean and along coastlines. The reverse process, called “downwelling,” also occurs when wind causes surface water to build up along a coastline and the surface water eventually sinks toward the bottom.

Upwelling is most common along the west coast of continents (eastern sides of ocean basins). In the Northern Hemisphere, upwelling occurs along west coasts (e.g., coasts of California, Northwest Africa) when winds blow from the north (causing transport of surface water away from the shore). Winds blowing from the south cause upwelling along continents' eastern coasts in the Northern Hemisphere, although it is not as noticeable because of the western boundary currents.

Water that rises to the surface as a result of upwelling is typically colder and is rich in nutrients. These nutrients “fertilize” surface waters, meaning that these surface waters often have high biological productivity. Therefore, good fishing grounds typically are found where upwelling is common.


Wind Driven Surface Currents: Upwelling and Downwelling (NASA Ocean Motion)

Upwelling and SoCal Water Temps (Surfline)