Oceanographic Monitoring in Sanctuaries

Regional currents such as the Davidson Current and California Current strongly influence local marine ecosystems and can have large impacts on ecological productivity and dynamics through larval dispersal, recruitment of marine populations, and upwelling zones. To monitor these processes the ONMS uses a network of ocean observing buoys called the West Coast Observatories (WCOS). These buoys are built and maintained by PISCO and are clustered around Channel Islands, Monterey Bay, Gulf of the Farallones and Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuaries (CINMS, MBNMS, GFNMS and OCNMS). The ONMS provides partial financial and logistical (boat time) support to maintain these buoys.

Web Sentinal bouy

ONMS West Coast Observatories (WCOS)

The WCOS project collects ocean observation data from all five of the west coast region sanctuaries. These buoys are largely maintained and operated by PISCO and UC-Davis Bodega Marine Laboratory as part of the Pacific Coast Ocean Observing System (PACOOS, http://www.pacoos.org). This project collects data that can then be processed into west coast region IOOS-compatible data available via the web.

These data have been used:

  • In detecting the annual timing and strength of upwelling and relaxation events (that have pronounced trophic cascades);
  • To describe the relationships between the timing and strength of upwelling and the amount of rockfish recruitment;
  • For graduate training courses to conduct analysis on data from within MBNMS;
  • During a 2007 PISCO-wide study designed to describe oceanographic patterns within MBNMS that have direct links to the larval recruitment of fishes and invertebrates;
  • Peer review publications
  • To contribute to the ONMS goal to make monitoring data accessible via the internet in an Integrated Ocean Observing System (IOOS) compatible format.
  • To characterize regions within NMS to ensure management is based on sound science.
  • For example CINMS WCOS data were used to inform the design of marine protected areas within CINMS

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Photo credit: Elizabeth Gates

Dungeness crabs that washed up along the Oregon coast after succumbing to low-oxygen conditions during 2004.

Photographer: Elizabeth Gates
Location: Cape Perpetua

Oregon Coast Hypoxia Event

In 2002, 2006, 2007 and 2008, PISCO researchers, in conjunction with OCNMS, NOAA Fisheries, and the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife captured the physical and biological anomalies resulting from massive hypoxia events occurring along the coast between northern Washington and southern Oregon.

These data have been used:

  • To determine the potential similarity between hypoxia events in OCNMS and Oregon;
  • To describe and understand the hypoxia events through collaboration between PISCO researchers and OCNMS;
  • Increased understanding of hypoxia events,
  • Peer review publications

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Circulation Patterns in the Channel Islands

Using oceanographic monitoring sites established in the CINMS, PISCO is currently working to resolve the mean flow and circulation patterns in the region. Within the northern Channel Islands knowledge of current flow patterns and the processes governing these patterns is requisite to understanding larvae recruitment and species replenishment dynamics throughout the CINMS.

These studies have led:

  • To an increased understanding of larval transport of key species and the impacts of local current circulations upon their ability to recruit.
  • The Science Advisory Team to California’s Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA) is using PISCO UCSB models to describe mean ocean current circulation within CINMS and identify patterns of larval connectivity between the CINMS and other regions of the southern California bight.
  • To peer review publications
  • To science informing the creation of both state and federal MPAs within CINMS.

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Future Goals

PISCO will continue work in these areas developing our understanding of the complex oceanography on the west coast and its relation to larval recruitment and larval transport.

Climatic change will significantly alter ocean currents, these monitoring efforts serve to monitor these changing impacts on:

  • Larval dispersal and recruitment in sanctuaries
  • Hypoxic events that affect sanctuaries
  • Ocean events (such as upwelling relaxation, El Niño events, changes in the coastal ocean swell environment) that affect sanctuary resources and habitat

PISCO-UCSC is currently soliciting for increased MBNMS support to establish a new study to determine the ocean circulation patterns within Carmel Bay and the ground-truthing of swell models to determine the impact of swell on nearshore communities.


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