We’re off! The NOAA Research Vessel Ronald H. Brown left the San Diego Naval Base this afternoon and started ‘heading for the border’… Past it actually; the first transect lies more than 500 miles to the south, off the west coast of Baja California, a region more famous for its wintering population of eastern Pacific gray whales than its carbonate chemistry.
The ship will pause to collect a sample at Station 001 on its way past Point Loma (more about that in the next post), but for the next 24 hours, the scientists are focused on settling in and getting their equipment ready for the first transect.
And that’s why today’s post comes to you from the NOAA Ocean Acidification Program headquarters on the opposite coast (Silver Spring, MD), where OAP Program Manager Erica Ombres is holding down the fort while her colleagues are attending the 4th International Symposium on the Ocean in a High CO2 World in Hobart, Tasmania.
Erica is well-qualified to provide a perspective on the 2016 West Coast OA Cruise. She oversees all research funded by the NOAA OA Program (which awards grants to academic as well as federal scientists), including much of the work that will take place on the Ron Brown over the next 5 weeks. But she also has a PhD in Marine Science, and has studied the impacts of OA on the metabolism and physiology of Antarctic krill. In fact, she was a mission scientist on the last NOAA West Coast OA Cruise in 2013 (and blogged about it here). She transitioned into her current position through a 2013 Knauss Fellowship, a Sea Grant program that places graduate students interested in Ocean, Coastal and Great Lakes resources and policy issues in year-long paid government internships.
We noticed that the mission and objectives of the current cruise seem very similar of those of the 2013 Cruise, and asked Erica why scientists would want to go out and do the same thing in the same place. Turns out there’s a very good reason: rising atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions are causing ocean conditions along the West Coast to change so rapidly, it’s vital that oceanographers revisit these waters regularly to understand trends and generate models to predict how ocean acidification will affect us over the next several decades. This approach, known “repeat hydrography”, is used all over the globe to monitor CO2-driven changes in ocean chemistry, temperature and currents.
Erica pointed out that for all the similarities to past cruises, there’s a lot that’s novel about the current mission. There’s a major emphasis on gathering biological data in tandem with traditional chemical and physical measurements. Scientists suspect that the past two years of unusually warm water along the west coast (nicknamed ‘The Blob’) may be compounding the effects of acidification within the California Current system, and they’ll employ the latest techniques to understand how key species like copepods and marine microbes are responding to both of these stressors. There’s also unprecedented collaboration with scientists in other U.S. federal agencies. For the first time in the West Coast Cruise’s five voyage history, three national parks—Cabrillo National Monument and Channel Islands National Park in California, and Olympic National Park in Washington—will participate. In some locations, they’ll partner with National Marine Sanctuary staff to collect near shore samples.
What makes these partnerships so great is having the shore-based team to connect the dots. NOAA Research Vessels would literally run aground if they tried to collect samples in these waters!
By contributing their robust, yet routine, near-shore and on-shore monitoring data and expertise, these parks and sanctuaries will help develop a more complete picture of ocean acidification on the West Coast. “What makes these partnerships so great is having the shore-based team to connect the dots. NOAA Research Vessels would literally run aground if they tried to collect samples in these waters!”
Working through the Interagency Working Group on Ocean Acidification (IWGOA), which OAP Director Libby Jewett* chairs, the OA Program helped leverage a similar relationship with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to expand last summer’s East Coast OA Cruise into shallow Narragansett and Delaware Bays. Erica is always looking for ways to foster partnerships, both within NOAA and across agencies. “We really try hard to be good partners and share resources to advance NOAA’s mission as far as possible.”
*Tune in May 6, at 3pm Pacific Time to hear Libby and OAP Deputy Director Dwight Gledhill report live from the Ocean in a High CO2 World Symposium in Hobart, Tasmania about the latest in OA Science and Communication.