New Adaptable Framework to Assess Nearshore Ocean Dynamics Enables Improved Coastal Management

  • 27 September 2022

Water, pollution, particles, and drifting marine organisms called plankton constantly move from the coast further out to sea and vice versa. The processes transporting this material include wind, waves, currents, and daily changes in temperature, which are often considered separately in research. A new review article in Annual Review of Marine Science, partially funded by the Climate Program Office’s Climate Observations and Monitoring (COM) program, describes and determines the relative importance of each transport mechanism in the nearshore marine environment, which extends a few kilometers from the shoreline. The paper provides a straightforward and adaptable method to assess all of the nearshore transport processes at play, enabling researchers and decision-makers to better understand this complex and dynamic ocean system.

Our connections to the marine environment are centered around coastal communities, which make up over 40% of Earth’s population. These communities interact with the ocean through recreational activities, conservation of marine protected areas, and commerce. Poor water quality on coastlines due to pollution or algal blooms can damage public health and aquatic ecosystems. Sustaining healthy relationships between humans and nearshore ecosystems depends on our ability to understand material transport in coastal waters. 

COM-supported researcher Dr. Melanie Fewings led this paper’s research effort on the influence of wind on material transport. The study’s findings demonstrate that surface wind’s influence on marine water transport depends on the water’s internal structure and layering. Resulting scenarios include upwelling, which brings cool and nutrient-rich water to the ocean’s surface, often creating favorable conditions for marine life. Downwelling can also occur, creating a build up of surface water in the nearshore region. Results show these processes have implications for how and where plankton move, which is essential to understand for fisheries management.

The article also includes findings by researchers from the National Center for Atmospheric Research, University of Washington, University of North Carolina Wilmington, Oregon State University, and University of New Hampshire describing the influence of turbulent conditions, wave processes, tides, and temperature cycles. This comprehensive representation of nearshore transport mechanisms allows for detailed analyses of specific study sites, and the researchers demonstrated this by applying their framework to a site north of Point Conception, California. Their framework assesses the complex exchange of plankton, pollution, and particles at the study site.

This study also advances the use of NOAA data in CPO’s Marine Ecosystems Risk Team Initiative to improve long-term planning and management of ocean resources. NOAA's long-term observations are a critical resource for marine research and provide the data needed to discern these physical relationships in the nearshore environment and enable more effective use and protection of marine areas.

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