Coastal Oceanography and Marine Ecosystems

PISCO’s research addresses important questions about marine community dynamics across a wide range of temporal and spatial scales. PISCO is leading the way toward a deeper understanding of how oceanographic patterns influence marine communities at large, regional, and local scales.

Photographer: Peter Taylor

Photographer: Peter Taylor

At the large scale of the California Current Large Marine Ecosystem (CCLME), PISCO has identified that biological and oceanographic transition points are more abrupt than previously thought. These abrupt transition zones shed new light on larval recruitment patterns and processes along the west coast. PISCO scientists have found that large-scale shifts in recruitment rates coincide with oceanographic discontinuities at prominent topographic features like Cape Blanco in Oregon and Point Conception in California. These discontinuities also mark the northern or southern range limits for some marine species suggesting that these features inhibit the north-south movement of larvae.

At regional scales, PISCO is providing oceanographic monitoring in support of Marine Protected Area evaluation. PISCO provides mooring support and data for the MPA network in Central California in collaboration with CeNCOOS and the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary. In Southern California, Pisco oceanographers have partnered with the Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary to monitor marine protected areas at the Northern Channel Islands. This effort also benefits from regional surface current monitoring via oceanographic radar systems as part of the SCCOOS. PISCO oceanographers use these data in combination with directed field studies to synthesize regional scale processes within specific regions of the CCLME.

At smaller space and time scales, PISCO is conducting targeted process studies to evaluate the effects of varying nearshore processes on local communities. For example, in 2007, PISCO conducted an intense field study in northern Monterey Bay to evaluate the effects of near-shore frontal movement and warm water masses on marine communities (specifically larval recruitment). Results of this study suggest that 1) larval recruitment is linked to alongshore frontal movement, 2) local oceanographic responses to regional upwelling are strikingly different than regional responses, and 3) larval recruitment and dispersal are driven by these local scale phenomena.

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