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The NW Arabian Sea is characterized by a strong seasonal contrast in surface water hydrography. During the SW monsoon of 1992, we encountered strong coastal upwelling characterized by low sea surface temperatures (SST), high nutrient concentrations, a shallow thermocline and a near-surface chlorophyll maximum. By contrast, the hydrography during the NE monsoon of 1993 was characterized by a relatively warm nutrient-depleted surface mixed layer and a deep chlorophyll maximum. We show that the faunal composition, depth habitat and abundance of living planktic foraminifera respond to the hydrographic changes controlled by the seasonally reversing monsoon system. Total shell concentrations (>125 μm) ranged from 4 to 332 individuals (ind.) m−3 during upwelling and from 3 to 85 ind. m−3 during the non-upwelling season. During upwelling, the fauna was dominated by Globigerina bulloides. During non-upwelling the fauna was characterized by relatively high concentrations of tropical symbiont-bearing species such as Globigerinoides ruber, Globigerinoides sacculifer and Globigerinella siphonifera, whereas concentrations of Globigerina bulloides were an order of magnitude lower. Factor analysis on 15 species yields an upwelling assemblage (UA), a tropical assemblage (TA) and a subsurface assemblage (SA). A fourth factor represents the distribution of the species Globigerina falconensis, which is mainly found in subsurface waters during the non-upwelling period (NE monsoon). A model is presented to calculate the base of the productive zone from the vertical shell concentration profile of a given species. The model is validated by comparing the range in calcification temperatures of G. bulloides, derived from its δ18O, with the in situ sea-water temperature range of the productive zone as predicted from the model. It appears that shell growth (calcite precipitation) is restricted to the productive zone as defined by this method. The average calcification temperature of G. bulloides corresponds to the point of maximum change in the shell concentration profile (i.e. the inflection point). For most shallow-dwelling species, the inflection point is found at or below the depth of the chlorophyll maximum, although above the main thermocline. This study indicates that the depth habitat and abundance of different species varies seasonally. Consequently, the abundance and stable isotope composition of specimens in the fossil record reflects a mixture of specimens that were produced at various depths during the different seasons.

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