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National Marine Sanctuary West Coast Observations Sanctuary Network Study (Draft)

Halle, C., J. Largier, and D. Lott (December 2009)

Office of National Marine Sanctuaries, West Coast Region Technical Report, 61pp.


The five West Coast National Marine Sanctuaries (Channel Islands, Monterey Bay, Gulf of the Farallones, Cordell Bank, and Olympic Coast) have each been collecting environmental observations for several years. The sanctuaries span the range of the West Coast, from southern California through northern Washington State. Their observations have historically been used to help with the multiple missions of the sanctuary system: to understand the unique environment of each sanctuary (research), to protect and manage the resources, and to educate the public about each sanctuary and environmental concerns in general. Many of the observations are available over the World-Wide-Web (WWW).

This report focuses on the single question: "How (or can) the five sanctuaries be turned into a unified network?" In other words, in this era of large-scale planetary changes, can (or should) the sanctuaries coordinate their research efforts and observations to address larger-scale issues? Can the large geographic range of the sanctuaries be used to some advantage in studying large-scale environmental processes? The authors of this report believe that such a network is both possible and desirable, with fairly minimal reorganization of the current observational system.

The following constraints have influenced the development of the proposed plan:

(1) Given the limited funding for observations, there is a potential conflict between obtaining observations for studying large-scale processes, and obtaining "local" observations for sanctuary management purposes. The best use of funds occurs with overlap of the two, i.e., when unified observations across the west coast can also be used to help with local management issues.

(2) Detection of long-term trends from time series can take years (or decades). The ideal situation is to make measurements that can have more immediate applicability, because: (a) the measurements are used to detect "events", or (b) the observations can be used to understand the underlying physical processes.

(3) The core network observations for the "network" should be in the form of physical (as opposed to biological) time series. This option is less costly and labor intensive, and provides a consistent reference frame or backbone for other NOAA or outside researchers to link into.

(4) When possible, it is desirable to make use of other large-scale observing efforts (such as the NDBC buoys or satellites). The incorporation of these measurements can provide a context for changes at the sanctuaries that are not possible from single-point measurements alone.

(5) It is assumed that the immediate users of the networked observations are sanctuary personnel, ecosystem managers, and research scientists. As such, it may be adequate to synthesize the observations on an annual basis. If needs dictate, however, it is possible that a real-time data display and analysis network may be necessary or preferable, particularly in responding to events or for public education.

The proposed network represents a two-pronged approach: (1) constructing a "virtual observatory", using remote measurements of sea-surface temperature and winds (from satellites and NDBC buoys), ocean surface currents (from satellites and HF Radar), and potentially currents at depth (from buoys), and (2) a set of oceanographic moorings to detect hypoxia and ocean acidification ("water quality"). The "virtual observatory" will allow local measurements collected by each sanctuary to be placed in a larger-scale context, while the array of water quality measurements would be useful for analyzing both insanctuary and larger-scale west coast processes. Each of the options can be implemented independently, although the information gleaned from the combination of the two will be more useful than from either alone.

In terms of the immediate needs of the sanctuaries, data reports need to be generated annually (at least). These include xxxx. Reason is xxxx. This is an additional requirement to the two above, that applies whether or not the decision if taken to implement a network.

This plan should be considered as a "living document". The authors invite comment and discussion.

URL:    Reviewed: November 20, 2017
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