Pacific Fisheries Environmental Laboratory

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Physical Oceanography

A great deal of the patterns and fluctuations observed in our living marine resources are attributable to the impact of physical processes in the environment on marine ecosystems and their components. For this reason, PFEL places a strong emphasis on research that examines the role of the physical environmental variability on marine ecosystems in general and commercially important fish stocks specifically. The objectives of the physical oceanography task are:
  • perform research on the temporal and spatial scales of environmental variability in eastern boundary current systems in relation to other marine ecosystems
  • provide environmental input to SWFSC research programs, particularly the coastal groundfish program
  • provide high quality marine information to the research community.
Research is performed at PFEL which integrates environmental and biological data sets, investigating the linkages between environmental variability and fluctuations in the abundance and distribution of marine populations on a continuum of scales (from global, basin-wide spatial scales to the scale of local upwelling centersand on time scales from decades down to days). Physical oceanography research is directed to:
  • large-scale climatic variability
  • environment/recruitment relationships in eastern boundary current ecosystems
  • mesoscale (smaller scale) processes affecting coastal circulation and fisheries recruitment
Analysis of
COADS Shows that the Ocean Environment Changes on Broad Time-Space
Marine Ecosystems
Reflect the Marine Environment Examples of research on the large-scale variability include studies of recurring temperature changes off the west coast of the U. S. and their effects on groundfish recruitment, and the investigation of environmental changes in the California Current region associated with recent ENSO events. Much of the mesoscale research focuses on relating environmental variability on day-to-year and 5-100 nm scales to patterns and events in the life history of groundfish (e.g., recruitment success). The physical oceanography research program is linked closely to those of the other tasks at PFEG and to research programs at the other SWFSC labs. PFEG scientists also are involved in numerous cooperative studies with oceanographers and fisheries scientists at many federal and state government, academic and privately supported research institutions.

Expertise in physical oceanography at PFEG and the linkages to the Navy's Fleet Numerical Meteorology and Oceanography Center (FNMOC) and Naval Postgraduate School, as well as numerous other government, academic, and private research facilities, has historically meant that this task serves regionally, nationally and internationally as a resource to other ocean scientists. Within the SWFSC, many cooperative research programs have been developed and planned. As an example, the task provides physical oceanographic expertise to the Tiburon Laboratory Rockfish Recruitment surveys each spring, to relate ocean variability off central California to rockfish recruitment. PFEG physical oceanographers are asked frequently to attend workshop and present seminars as experts on environmental-fishery linkages, and represent SWFSC, NMFS and NOAA on numerous committees and working groups.

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