The Humboldt Current, also called the Peru Current, is a cold, low-salinity ocean current that flows north along the western coast of South America. It is an eastern boundary current flowing in the direction of the equator, and extends 500–1,000 km (310–620 mi) offshore. The Humboldt Current is named after the Prussian naturalist Alexander von Humboldt. In 1846, von Humboldt reported measurements of the cold-water current in his book Cosmos.
The current extends from southern Chile (~45th parallel south) to northern Peru (~4th parallel south) where cold, upwelled, waters intersect warm tropical waters to form the Equatorial Front. Sea surface temperatures off the coast of Peru, around 5th parallel south, reach temperatures as low as 16 °C (61 °F). This is highly uncharacteristic of tropical waters, as most other regions have temperatures measuring above 25 °C (77 °F). Upwelling brings nutrients to the surface, which support phytoplankton and ultimately increase biological productivity.
The Humboldt Current is a highly productive ecosystem. It is the most productive eastern boundary current system. It accounts for roughly 18-20% of the total worldwide marine fish catch. The species are mostly pelagic: sardines, anchovies and jack mackerel. The system's high productivity supports other important fishery resources as well as marine mammals (eared seals and cetaceans) and seabirds. Periodically, the upwelling that drives the system's productivity is disrupted by the El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO) event, often with large social and economic impacts.
The Humboldt has a considerable cooling influence on the climate of Chile, Peru and Ecuador. It is also largely responsible for the aridity of Atacama Desert in northern Chile and coastal areas of Peru and also of the aridity of southern Ecuador. Marine air is cooled by the current and thus is not conducive to generating precipitation (although clouds and fog are produced).