'Wind to Whales' research program to investigate the Monterey Bay ecosystem receives additional funding of $2 million

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has awarded a grant of nearly $2 million to the University of California, Santa Cruz, to support the ongoing development of the Center for Integrated Marine Technologies (CIMT). The center, established last year with an initial $2 million grant from NOAA, has brought together a diverse group of scientists from six partner institutions around Monterey Bay to study the processes that drive California's highly productive coastal ecosystems.

A complex web of physical and biological interactions sustains these ecosystems, from the wind that drives the upwelling of nutrient-rich deep water to the great whales drawn to bountiful feeding grounds. The "Wind to Whales" research program refers to the whole network of dynamic interactions that CIMT scientists are working to monitor and understand, focusing for now on the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary. Ultimately, the researchers would like to be able to predict how the system will respond to changes, such as global warming or different management strategies for fisheries.

"We want to understand how the coastal ocean works in an area of high biological productivity. The first step has been to get all the people and equipment in place and coordinate our efforts," said Gary Griggs, director of the Institute of Marine Sciences at UCSC and chair of CIMT's board of directors.

The partner institutions in CIMT are UCSC, the National Marine Fisheries Service Laboratory in Santa Cruz, the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute (MBARI), Moss Landing Marine Laboratories, the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary, and the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey.

A key part of the center's mission is to pull together a highly diverse array of data collected by a range of technologies and present the data in an integrated fashion, making it readily accessible to scientists, resource managers, and the public. Margaret McManus, an assistant professor of ocean sciences at UCSC, oversees the center's database and data visualization work.

"We've brought together oceanographers specializing in physical, biological, and chemical oceanography, as well as marine biologists, marine ecologists, remote sensing experts, network engineers, and data management and visualization specialists, all with the common goal of sampling coastal waters, bringing that data together in a common place, and using visualization tools to communicate it to scientists, the public, and other interested parties," McManus said.

CIMT scientists conduct monthly surveys of Monterey Bay on the research vessel John Martin out of Moss Landing, gathering an abundance of data on oceanographic conditions and life in the bay, from phytoplankton to whales. For more continuous measurements of oceanographic conditions, instruments are deployed on moorings in the bay. MBARI, in association with CIMT, has developed an advanced mooring system that can monitor oceanographic processes in near real-time, and the center is expanding the number of these moorings in Monterey Bay.

In addition to the surveys and moorings, high-frequency radar from shore-based stations is used to monitor surface currents, while satellite observations are used to measure sea surface temperatures and estimate phytoplankton abundance.

All these measurements are being used to investigate linkages between coastal upwelling, nutrient delivery, phytoplankton growth, and the distribution, abundance, and productivity of organisms such as squid, fish, seabirds, sea turtles, and whales.

"On a national level, we're one of the first projects to bring together so many different facets into an integrated system," McManus said.

CIMT is one of several regional efforts that are being funded as pilot projects in a nationwide effort to establish an integrated ocean observing system. NOAA and several other federal agencies are coordinating the effort, aimed at meeting national needs in the areas of detecting and forecasting oceanic components of climate variability; facilitating safe and efficient marine operations; ensuring national security; managing resources for sustainable use; preserving and restoring healthy marine ecosystems; mitigating natural hazards; and ensuring public health.

"I see it as a vote of confidence from NOAA that they are funding us again at the same level as last year," Griggs said.