Environmental Drivers Overview

Euphausia pacifica dorsal, photo by russ hopcroft.

The Environmental Drivers component encompasses five projects collecting long-term physical and biological oceanographic data to assess ecosystem functions and climate trends and their impact on the recovery of species and ecosystem services injured by the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill.  Monitored parameters include temperature at the surface and at various depths in the water column, salinity (salty versus fresh from rivers and terrestrial runoff), dissolved oxygen, currents, nutrients, chlorophyll, phytoplankton and zooplankton (the small plants and animals that form the very base of the food chain).

Why are we monitoring?

Many of these projects have long time series, with up to 30 years of historic data.  Historic data, combined with additional years of data collected through this program, are key to addressing questions such as:

  • What are the patterns of oceanographic conditions in different locations in Prince William Sound, the Gulf of Alaska shelf and lower Cook Inlet? Is the pattern the same across the geographic area or are there different patterns in different areas over time?
  • Where and when does the ocean become stratified (with a layer of warmer, fresher water over colder, saltier water) and provide the conditions that lead to spring and autumn phytoplankton blooms?
  • How does the timing of the spring phytoplankton bloom and its accompanying water conditions (temperature, salinity, nutrients) affect the abundance and location of zooplankton communities from year to year?