NSF awards $10 million in grants to ocean sites for long-term ecological research

July 26, 2004

Arlington, Va.--Coral reefs and coastal upwelling ecosystems are the subjects of two new Long-Term Ecological Research (LTER) sites awarded funding by the National Science Foundation (NSF). With the addition of the Moorea Coral Reef LTER Site and the California Current Ecosystem LTER Site, there are now 26 NSF-funded sites in the LTER network. The two newest sites will receive approximately $820,000 for the next six years, for a total of about $ 5 million each.

"These two new sites significantly augment the LTER network, which had included only one marine site, in the Antarctic," says Henry Gholz, director of NSF's LTER program. "The awards ensure that high biodiversity and productivity ecosystems in most of the world's major biomes, both on land and in the oceans, are represented."

Moorea Coral Reef LTER Site

The new Moorea Coral Reef LTER site will be located at the site of the University of California's field laboratory on the island of Moorea in French Polynesia.

Coral reefs rank near the top of all ecosystems when it comes to biodiversity and annual productivity. "These large and diverse communities are fueled by efficient nutrient recycling processes, and by the structure reef-building corals provide," says Phil Taylor, director of NSF's biological oceanography program. "Stony corals are the foundation upon which tens of thousands of other species rely."

Research at the new French Polynesia site will help scientists better understand coral reef processes that drive the functions of this ecosystem; the nature of coral reef animal and plant community structure and diversity; and the factors that determine the abundance and dynamics of related populations. "This understanding," says Taylor, "will allow us to make more accurate predictions of how coral reef ecosystems respond to environmental change, whether human-induced or from natural cycles."

The four principal investigators for the award are affiliated with the University of California at Santa Barbara (Russell Schmitt and Sally Holbrook), and California State University at Northridge (Robert Carpenter and Peter Edmunds). In addition, scientists at the University of Hawaii, the University of California at Santa Cruz, Scripps Institution of Oceanography and the University of California at Davis comprise the interdisciplinary team of ecologists, physical oceanographers, paleoceanographers and population geneticists on the project.

California Current Ecosystem LTER Site

The California Current wends along just off California shores as part of the north Pacific Ocean's circulation. The current is the driving force behind what's known as a coastal upwelling biome, among the most productive coastal ecosystems in the world's oceans. "The California Current System sustains active fisheries for a variety of finfish and shellfish, modulates weather patterns and the hydrologic cycle of much of the western United States, and plays a vital role in the economy of myriad coastal communities," says Taylor.

Understanding the mechanism of change in coastal ecosystems is important to the management of living and non-living resources in the coastal zone, scientists believe. "In the California Current System, successful management of commercially important resources such as anchovy, sardine, several species of Pacific salmon, squid, Dungeness crab, abalone and others requires knowledge of the causes and consequences of system variability," says Taylor.

The California Current System is the eastern limb of the large, clockwise circulation of the north Pacific Ocean. As water from the westward drift turns south and becomes the California Current, it brings with it cool, fresh water from the sub-arctic region. The California Current System off central and southern California consists of the broad, southward-flowing California Current; a persistent but variable subsurface California Undercurrent centered on the continental slope that carries water poleward from the tropics; and a highly seasonal circulation over and near the continental shelf, which shifts from a windward-driven equatorward flow that brings coastal upwelling in spring and summer, to a poleward flow in fall and winter.

Scientists working at the California Current Ecosystem LTER Site will conduct research on how the influences of El Nino and the Pacific Decadal Oscillation, a decades-long climate phenomenon, as well as multi-decadal warming trends noted in records kept by research institutions along the California coast, affect the California Current System. Researchers hope to develop an understanding of how these phenomena affect changes in food webs, predator-prey relationships, movement of organisms into and out of the region and the transfer of assemblages of organisms along the California coast.

The five principal investigators for the award blend expertise in ocean ecology, and chemical and physical oceanography, and are affiliated with the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in La Jolla, California: Mark Ohman; Katherine Barbeau; Ralf Goericke; Michael Landry; and Arthur Miller. Scientists from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)'s National Marine Fisheries Service, Georgia Institute of Technology, Duke University and Point Reyes Bird Observatory round out the interdisciplinary team.
NSF program contacts:
Henry Gholz, hgholz@nsf.gov, 703-292-8480
Phil Taylor, prtaylor@nsf.gov, 703-292-8580

NSF is an independent federal agency that supports fundamental research and education across all fields of science and engineering, with an annual budget of nearly $5.58 billion. NSF funds reach all 50 states through grants to nearly 2,000 universities and institutions. Each year, NSF receives about 40,000 competitive requests for funding, and makes about 11,000 new funding awards. NSF also awards over $200 million in professional and service contracts yearly.

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National Science Foundation

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