THE FRONT STORY

The California Current Ecosystem (CCE)  Long Term Ecological Research (LTER) site is comprised of scientists, students and educators that are working to understand and communicate  the connections between large-scale natural processes such as warm water/cold fronts and the feeding success, and reproduction of marine life.  The upwelling of cold water is a variable area that extends out from the coast toward the open ocean.  We have been studying the cooler water that hugs the land masses. Further offshore the water is warmer.  What happens at the boundary between cool and warm water?  This “front” is an area of intense interest.  When we hit the cold front, which is a wall of water,  the crew worked around the clock.  Day shifts flowed into night shifts and cycled back around.  We were able to compare and contrast the specimens from the first four cycles with the warm water specimens.  Scientists ask questions about the front including whether the food web is the same or different on either side of the wall and what is life like inside of it?
   What we do know is that water with lower temperatures is more nutrient rich.  Some of the lesson plans I am writing focus on those concepts, but for now we are hypothesizing that the cold water will have more plankton and more krill.
So that’s why I am writing this report outside.  My concurrent hypothesis is THERE ARE WHALES OUT HERE TODAY!  Yes, I am excited, watching and waiting with camera, binoculars, lab notebook, pencil, and most important a good attitude.  There is a low gray mist that obscures the view.  Baby, it’s cold outside. The sky is gray, the sea is gray, the deck is painted gray and probably my roots will be gray by the time I finish writing this for the blog.

The Jars Tell the Story

The Jars Tell the Story: The jars in the middle are from the cold front. You can see how dense they are: a microscopic stew of life. Water with lower temperature is more nutrient rich; and supports high productivity in plankton.

Let’s talk about the physical characteristics of the water.  The higher density is because the temperature is lower and the water is more saline.  Lower density water is warmer and less salty.  What happens when they meet?  The higher temperature within an organism, the more quickly the energy-releasing processes happen.  Since many marine organisms are the same temperature as the surrounding water, their internal temperatures match that of the water around them.  Their metabolic rate speeds up.  Phytoplankton, for example, take in more nutrients and grow faster. Zooplankton metabolize their food

Preserved jar of Euphausia pacifica caught in the mockness trawl off of the RV Melville

Preserved jar of Euphausia pacifica caught in the mockness trawl off of the RV Melville (Photo by: Christy Millsap)

very quickly.  Incidentally,  they deplete the nutrients in the warmer water as a direct result.   So, the result after a while in warm water, is that there are less nutrients in the water, less phytoplankton, and less zooplankton for the fish and whales.  The systems “run down” at higher ocean temperatures.
    A key concept is that the primary production of plankton shapes the ecosystem. Since there is a relationship between organisms in the food chain, scientists are interested in just how much productivity is evident in the cold front.
    My blog report is almost done and no whales are in sight so I am going;  besides my extremities are almost frozen to the deck chair.  Hey, what’s that?  Nah, a dorsal fin?   GETOUTTAHERE!  I am seeing a dolphin leaping along starboard. No, make that two.  Oh my goodness, in the distance I can see about 30 or 40 Common dolphins.  Hey, they’re gray too, with white underneath.  I am shooting pictures like crazy, because I know you are not going to believe this.  They are very close to me now, but every time one comes up, I point, click and floop the dolphin dives under.  Well, take my word for it. Wow, this cold front is so cool.     Final note: Thank you Mark Ohman, Scripps Institute of Oceanography,  Principle Investigator. Your veracity is much appreciated and your verbosity always enjoyable. Signing off, Teacher at Sea, Miss Guest