If we drove from the city of Calexico to Point Conception along the coast of California it would take about six and a half hours to get there, assuming there is no traffic. But on our ship, it has taken us a little over two days to get here, including a stop to test our equipment south of San Clemente island. We are ready to start surveying the area to make a vertical profile of the ocean.
This would will be the first step before starting intensive experiments and sampling in different types or “parcels” of ocean water, which take three to four days at a time. Therefore reaching Point Conception is our first step to understanding the current conditions of the ocean. The MVP is used for this task. MVP stands for moving vessel profiler, which measures concentrations of chlorophyll a, counts plankton, and measures temperature and salinity at different depths in the ocean while the ship is moving.
The MVP is called a three-dimensional profile because we measure variations in conditions both horizontally and vertically in the ocean. These profiles include concentrations of chlorophyll a, which is a green pigment found in algae and plants. Finding these measurements helps indicate concentrations of the amount of phytoplankton, the living micro-organisms that support food webs in the ocean that scientists on this vessel are very interested in studying.
Knowing the temperature and salinity of the water can also give clues to changes in the ocean system. These changes can be compared to previous studies that date back to 1949 when CalCOFI (the California Cooperative Oceanic Fisheries Investigations) began studying the Pacific Ocean off the California sea.
“We have data collected by CalCOFI when the biggest fisheries in the U.S. collapsed. They were interested in the factors that lead to their demise,” explained cruise chief scientist Mike Landry of Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego.
Both changes in temperature and salinity could indicate El Nino-like conditions. We are also interested in intense upwelling areas. Upwelling refers to the movement of deep, cold nutrient-rich water toward the sea surface.
“At this time our preliminary results suggest that some one of these historically important upwelling areas seems to be shut down,” Landry added.
Upwelling helps fertilize the ocean and stimulate the growth of the single-celled algae (phytoplankton). Many drifting animals (zooplankton) and fish larvae depend on the production of phytoplankton in these upwelling regions.
“In the following days we will find out if these unusual conditions will change. We might observe recovering upwelling or we might witness what the ocean might be like in the future if warming conditions persist,” said Landry.