Physical and Chemical Oceanography

Current Research Highlights

A harmful algal bloom (HAB) of unprecedented geographic scope, duration, and intensity occurred along the West Coast of North America in the summer of 2015. Ryan McCabe of JISAO was the lead author of a journal article on this event (McCabe et al., Geophysical Research Letters, 2016) that has gained a great deal of attention from the scientific community, fisheries managers, and health agencies. He and his co-authors showed how warm and nutrient-poor conditions provided a competitive advantage to a particular species that can produce the toxin, Pseudo-nitzchia australis. A sort of one-two punch in the winds resulted in a massive bloom followed by the transport of toxic cells onto the coast, including shellfish beds. While this HAB cannot be attributed to climate change, it does illustrate one of the emerging threats of global warming.

The fifth of in a series of West Coast ocean acidification (OA) research cruises was conducted in 2016 from the R/V Ronald H. Brown. The Ocean Climate Stations Project (OCS) collects climate quality air-sea interaction observations that can be used as reference time series for assessment studies and process studies. JISAO scientists comprised a major portion of a large team with diverse expertise and interests. There were 16 lines of stations from Vancouver Island south to Baja California at which water properties were measured and phytoplankton and zooplankton were collected with nets. The chemistry of the ocean is changing, and there is simply no substitute for this kind of effort to document exactly how it is changing and impacting the base of the marine food web.

Hydrothermal vents might be expected to be inhospitable places. In actuality, complex biological communities have evolved to take advantage of the chemical energy in the plumes of water emanating from these volcanic springs. David Butterfield of JISAO organized and served as chief scientist on an innovative research expedition to explore new hydrothermal vent fields in the Mariana Back-Arc in the western Pacific Ocean. The ship was the Falkor of the Schmidt Ocean Institute, and video and samples were captured from a series of dives with SuBastian, a new and highly capable remotely-operated vehicle (ROV). The cruise included extensive public outreach highlighted by the streaming of dramatic live video from SuBastian.

A so-called “megaquake” on the Cascadia Subduction Zone offshore of the Pacific Northwest is inevitable. When it happens, a large tsunami will shortly thereafter deliver walls of water to places such as the Long Beach Peninsula of Washington State. Since there would be insufficient time to get from some low-lying areas to high enough ground, an alternative strategy is to construct some buildings such as schools and hospitals that would serve as refuges from a tsunami. JISAO scientists with the NOAA Center for Tsunami Research (NCTR) partnered with a committee of the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) to address this problem. A large number of high-resolution simulations of tsunamis that could occur along the Pacific Coast were carried out by NCTR; the results showed that surges ranging from 16 to as much as 100 feet high are possible at particular locations. The modeled wave heights and current velocities were used by the ASCE to develop design standards for structures that could withstand tsunamis of these magnitudes.

Types of Research

  1. Chemical tracers of ocean circulation
  2. Sea floor observations
  3. Coastal ocean observations
  4. J-SCOPE
  5. Innovative observations in the Arctic and north Pacific
  6. Ocean acidification

Affiliated Programs

  1. Earth-Ocean Interactions Program
  2. NOAA Center for Tsunami Research
  3. Global Tropical Moored Buoy Array
  4. Ocean Climate Stations
  5. J-SCOPE

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