My research combines satellite products, models and in situ data to study ecosystem processes and physical/biological interactions in the coastal and open oceans. I work with several MBARI research groups (Chavez, Haddock, Robison, Smith). Current areas of research include physical and biological variability at regional and global scales, ecosystem response to climate and ocean change, bioluminescence in the upper ocean, marine hotspots in the California Current, connections between surface, midwater and benthic communities, and the effect of tropical islands on phytoplankton biomass and biodiversity.


Large-scale climate variability and impacts on biology

Satellite data and other global gridded products provide the opportunity to study physical and biological variability at the global scale. We investigated the global modes of climate variability using sea surface temperatures (1910-2009). These global modes are related to regional modes such as ENSO or the Pacific Decadal Oscillation. A shorter-term analysis of physical and biological variables (1993-2010) revealed synchronous variations associated with ENSO (first mode) and with ENSO Modoki and the NPGO (second mode).

See the Global Modes webpage that includes plots and up-to-date global climate indices (updated monthly).



  • Messié, M. and F.P. Chavez, 2011. Global modes of sea surface temperature variability in relation to regional climate indices. Journal of Climate, 24(16), 4313-4330, doi:10.1175/2011JCLI3941.1.
  • Chavez, F.P., M. Messié and J.T. Pennington, 2011. Marine primary production in relation to climate variability and change. Annual Review of Marine Science, 3, 227-260, doi:10.1146/annurev.marine.010908.163917.
  • Messié, M. and F.P. Chavez, 2012. A global analysis of ENSO synchrony: the oceans biological response to physical forcing. Journal of Geophysical Research: Oceans, 117, C09001, doi:10.1029/2012JC007938.
  • Messié, M. and F.P. Chavez, 2013. Physical-biological synchrony in the global ocean associated with recent variability in the central and western equatorial Pacific. Journal of Geophysical Research: Oceans, 118(8), 3782-3794, doi:10.1002/jgrc.20278.
  • Chavez, F.P., J.T. Pennington, R. Michisaki, M. Blum, G.M. Chavez, (…) and M. Messié, 2017. Climate variability and change: Response of a coastal ocean ecosystem. Oceanography, 30(4), 128-145, doi:10.5670/oceanog.2017.429.,

Biological response to upwelling in Eastern Boundary Upwelling Systems (EBUS)
EBUS are very productive regions of the world ocean, where wind-driven upwelling brings deep, nutrient-rich waters to the surface. We computed nitrate supply from satellite winds and in situ nitrate climatologies in the four major upwelling systems: California, NW Africa, Peru and Benguela. This product was used to investigate the seasonal regulation of primary production in EBUS, showing that primary production regulation is highly variable in space and time and across systems. We also use it to investigate zooplankton hotspots based on a simple plankton model initialized with nitrate supply and combined with surface currents. A study in progress investigates the impact of upwelling on surface, midwater and benthic communities.

See the Nsupply webpage for a description of the nitrate supply calculation method and to download data products.,


  • Messié, M., J. Ledesma, D.D. Kolber, R.P. Michisaki, D.G. Foley and F.P. Chavez, 2009. Potential new production estimates in four eastern boundary upwelling systems. Progress in Oceanography, 83(1-4), 151-158, doi:10.1016/j.pocean.2009.07.018
  • Chavez, F.P. and M. Messié, 2009. A comparison of eastern boundary upwelling ecosystems. Progress in Oceanography, 83(1-4), 80-96, doi:10.1016/j.pocean.2009.07.032
  • Messié, M. and F.P. Chavez, 2015. Seasonal regulation of primary production in eastern boundary upwelling systems. Progress in Oceanography, 134, 1-18, doi:10.1016/j.pocean.2014.10.011
  • Messié, M. and F.P. Chavez, 2017. Nutrient supply, surface currents and plankton dynamics predict zooplankton hotspots in coastal upwelling systems. Geophysical Research Letters, 44(17), 8979-8986, doi:10.1002/2017GL074322 (press release),

Impact of islands on phytoplankton biomass and biodiversity
In the oligotrophic tropical Pacific ocean, islands can enhance phytoplankton biomass and create biological hotspots. This “islands mass effect” has been known for decades but the vast majority of islands remain unstudied and impacts at the basin scale are not well characterized. During the SAPPHIRE project (Systematic Analysis of Pacific PHytoplankton and Island Regional Effects), we revisited this topic by conducting a systematic analysis of the island mass effect using a suite of physical and biological satellite data. This work was completed during a 15-month Marie Curie fellowship at the Mediterranean Institute of Oceanography (MIO, Marseille, France) in 2018-19.

See the SAPPHIRE project website for more information.,


  • Messié, M., A. Petrenko, A.M. Doglioli, C. Aldebert, E. Martinez, G. Koenig, S. Bonnet and T. Moutin, 2020. The delayed island mass effect: How islands can remotely trigger blooms in the oligotrophic ocean. Geophysical Research Letters, 47(2), e2019GL085282, doi:10.1029/2019GL085282,

Autonomous proxies for plankton taxonomic groups

High-resolution autonomous sensors routinely measure physical (temperature, salinity), chemical (oxygen, nutrients) and biological (fluorescence) parameters. However, while fluorescence provides a proxy for phytoplankton, taxonomic information is not readily available and heterotrophic populations remain challenging to monitor in real-time and at high resolution. We used a combination of fluorescence and bioluminescence sensors to develop proxies for several auto-and heterotrophic plankton taxonomic groups. A study in progress investigates the use of fluorescence and backscatter sensors to identify major phytoplankton groups.,


  • Messié, M., I. Shulman, S. Martini and S.H.D. Haddock, 2019. Using fluorescence and bioluminescence sensors to characterize auto- and heterotrophic plankton communities. Progress in Oceanography, 171, 76-92, doi:10.1016/j.pocean.2018.12.010 (press release),

Physical-biological interactions in the western tropical Pacific
The western tropical Pacific is characterized by low surface productivity, notably within the warm pool where a persistent oligotrophic zone exists. Such low chlorophyll values can be explained by a deep nutricline, the presence of a barrier layer and the remoteness of nutrient-rich areas. Nevertheless, temporal variability in phytoplankton biomass does exist at the intraseasonal, seasonal and interannual scales. The seasonal cycle of satellite chlorophyll was found to be primarily driven by changes in horizontal advection and local upwelling. The interannual variability was dominated by a dramatic bloom observed during the 1997-98 El Niño / La Niña transition, which was shown to be generated by an island mass effect (Gilbert Islands, Republic of Kiribati). A similar bloom was observed during the 2009-10 El Niño / La Niña transition. This work was performed at the Laboratoire d’Etudes en Géophysique et Océanographie Spatiales (LEGOS, Toulouse, France).,


  • Messié, M., 2006. Contrôle de la dynamique de la biomasse phytoplanctonique dans le Pacifique tropical ouest. Thèse de doctorat de l’Université Toulouse 3 (PhD dissertation, in French).
  • Messié, M. and M.-H. Radenac, 2006. Seasonal variability of the surface chlorophyll in the western tropical Pacific from SeaWiFS data. Deep-Sea Research Part I, 53(10), 1581-1600, doi:10.1016/j.dsr.2006.06.007.
  • Messié, M., M.-H. Radenac, J. Lefèvre and P. Marchesiello, 2006. Chlorophyll bloom in the western Pacific at the end of the 1997-98 El Niño: the role of the Kiribati Islands. Geophysical Research Letters, 33, L14601, doi:10.1029/2006GL026033.
  • Gierach, M.M., M. Messié, T. Lee, K.B. Karnauskas and M.-H. Radenac, 2013. Biophysical responses near equatorial islands in the western Pacific ocean during El Niño/La Niña transitions. Geophysical Research Letters, 40(20), 5473-5479, doi:10.1029/2012GL051103.
  • Radenac, M.-H., F. Léger, M. Messié, P. Dutrieux, C. Menkes and G. Eldin, 2016. Wind-driven changes of surface current, temperature, and chlorophyll observed by satellites north of New Guinea. Journal Geophysical Research: Oceans, 121, 2231-2252, doi:10.1002/2015JC011438.,

Other past studies

  • Forecasting Anchovy and Sardine Transitions (FAST)
  • Salmon Applied Forecasting, Assessment and Research Initiative (SAFARI)
  • Salmon Ecosystem Simulation and Management Evaluation (SESAME)
  • Monterey Bay Marine Biodiversity Observing Network (MBON)
  • Impact of environmental conditions on sharks distribution and diving behavior.,