Ship of Opportunity Biogeochemistry

Each year an intense phytoplankton bloom sweeps across the subarctic North Atlantic Ocean in spring. The spatial extent, timing and composition of this bloom regulates important ecological and biogeochemical cycles in the ocean, including North Atlantic fisheries. Year-to-year variability in this bloom are linked to aspects of climate variability in the North Atlantic including the North Atlantic Oscillation. Monitoring the resulting variability not only for the peak spring bloom, but over the entire annual cycle, is an essential part of understanding the ecosystems and carbon cycle in this ocean region.

WHOI PIs David Nicholson and Samuel Laney are taking advantage of a unique opportunity to establish a field program to obtain time-series measurements in this subarctic Atlantic region that are critical to characterizing its primary production and carbon cycle dynamics. Towards this end, we are collaborating with NOAA colleagues to maintain oceanographic sensors on commercial ships of opportunity that transit between Europe, Iceland, and New England. What makes this project unique is the exceptional temporal and spatial resolution provided by the ships that sail this commercial route, which involves twelve return trips between Reykjavik and Portland, ME each year. Such frequent transits are unheard of with ships in any science research fleet, and use of commercial ships provides scientists with the means to characterize the full seasonal and spatial dynamics of these blooms as well as any connection to climate variability or ocean biogeochemistry in the North Atlantic.

This pilot project has served to solidify a critical partnership between WHOI and NOAA researchers who have a decade-plus relationship with the Icelandic shipping company Eimskip, which itself has a strong corporate track record of environmental stewardship. It also represents an important demonstration of new autonomous, near-real-time approaches for key collecting ecological and biogeochemical data with minimal user interaction. Commercial ships can be an effective platform for conducting oceanographic research and for enabling repeated, time-series observations in critical ocean regions where frequent occupation by research vessels would be impractical or prohibitively expensive. Over its second field season this pilot program will continue to generate new, unique data from the subarctic North Atlantic.


WHOI: S. Laney
NOAA AOML: R. Wanninkof, D. Pierrot


WHOI : Ocean and Climate Change Institute

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