More Than $6 Million Awarded to Scripps-Based Long-Term Ecological Research Program


The National Science Foundation (NSF) awarded $6.76 million over the next six years to the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at University of California San Diego-based California Current Ecosystem (CCE) program, part of NSF's Long-Term Ecological Research (LTER) program.

Launched in 2004, CCE-LTER employs a multidisciplinary approach to discover the inner workings of the California Current Ecosystem, located in the eastern portion of the clockwise flow of the North Pacific Ocean that circulates just off California's shores. The renewed funding for the program’s third phase allows scientists to continue studies of the mechanisms underlying changes in the ecosystems off California's coast to help forecasting future changes in the region. The multi-layered program includes at-sea experiments, physical-biological modeling, and ocean observations using ships, gliders, moorings, and satellites.

“The California Current System is a complex of ocean currents right outside our front door,” said Mark Ohman, lead principal investigator of CCE-LTER and a professor of biological oceanography in Scripps Oceanography's Integrative Oceanography Division. “This coastal upwelling environment is among the world's most productive ocean ecosystems. Changes in this part of the ocean affect California's weather patterns, the productivity of coastal fisheries, the influx of exotic species, ocean carbon sequestration, and the suitability of our coastal ocean and beaches for recreation, tourism, and navigation.”

Phase 3 of the research program includes studies of cross-shore transport processes that lead to changes in nutrients and organisms concentrations; forecasting the effects of El Niño on marine organisms as well as its relationship to unusual ocean heat waves, such as the warm-water patch called “The Blob;” and the use of molecular tools to characterize the diversity of single-celled and multicellular organisms off the California coast.

Using data collected from a spring 2016 RAPID El Niño Response research cruise by CCE scientists, the program will conduct collaborative studies to develop a new framework for forecasting the effects of El Niño on marine pelagic ecosystems along the U.S. West Coast. In addition, three CCE research cruises to study cross-transport processes are planned for the six-year funding period.

Program scientists will also work closely with Birch Aquarium at Scripps to communicate their research to the broader San Diego community.

The program has been building upon scientific foundations laid by the California Cooperative Oceanic Fisheries Investigations (CalCOFI), a monitoring program launched in 1949 with Scripps Oceanography, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, and NOAA's National Marine Fisheries Service.

The Scripps-based CCE-LTER program includes collaborators in research, teaching, and outreach activities from nine other institutions in the U.S. and others around the world. The CCE-LTER research team includes biological, chemical, and physical oceanographers, biogeochemists, climate scientists, a satellite remote sensing expert, an information management specialist, mathematical modelers, and many graduate students and research technicians.

“We know ocean ecosystems are changing, and this grant gives us the tools to better understand and eventually forecast the consequences of those changes for California and Californians,” said Ohman. “We're fortunate to have a top group of scientists and graduate students spanning multiple disciplines to tackle these problems.”

The program’s second phase resulted in more than 222 scientific journal articles, book chapters and conference proceedings, 19 PhD theses, and the prologue to the popular book Plankton: Wonders of the Drifting World. In addition, five graduate courses and three undergraduate courses have incorporated results from CCE-LTER science into the classroom. Research findings from Phase 2, which ran from 2010-2016, include

  • Changes in ocean circulation and upwelling in the California Current System and their effects on krill and other types of planktonic organisms.
  • Long-term changes in timing of fish spawning in the California Current System, drawing on over six decades of sampling by CalCOFI.
  • The importance of ocean fronts in ocean productivity and transport of carbon and other elements into the ocean's interior.
  • The sensitivity of small midwater fishes that comprise the ocean's acoustic deep scattering layer to long-term changes in dissolved oxygen, and the effects of these fishes on ocean biogeochemistry.
  • The effects of changing ocean chemistry (including nutrients, trace metals, oxygen, and ocean acidification) on the ocean food web.

Related Image Gallery: Long-Term Ecological Research

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