Newswise — As the world’s climate shifts, changes are occurring in many ocean parameters — temperature, salinity, acidity, currents and sea level among them. And while understanding the point at which these changes impact communities are crucial for mitigating environmental and societal impacts, data gaps can hinder the decision-making process.

Speakers and members explored the idea of ecological thresholds and how the Gulf of Mexico Coastal Ocean Observing System (GCOOS) and its partners can support information-based responses to change during the GCOOS Spring Meeting earlier this month.

GCOOS is the Gulf of Mexico regional component of the U.S. Integrated Ocean Observing System (IOOS) — a network of people and technology gathering coastal and ocean data and developing predictive tools about the ocean. It’s the only NOAA-certified system dedicated solely to the Gulf of Mexico and it provides on-demand information about the Gulf’s coastal and open ocean waters that is accurate, reliable and benefits people, ecosystems and the economy.

GCOOS members come from government, academia, nonprofit organizations, and industry, and meet twice a year to share information and the latest efforts in ocean observing in the Gulf.

The GCOOS Spring Meeting, which took place at Texas A&M University-Galveston, focused on the idea of ecological thresholds, exploring thresholds in marine heatwaves, water quality and ocean currents to identify priority areas for better data gathering the development of predictive and decision-support tools.

“The Gulf of Mexico is one of the most productive bodies of water in the world, and changes in ocean parameters here have the potential to impact more than 14 million people who call the Gulf coast home,” said GCOOS Executive Director Dr. Jorge Brenner. “As an organization dedicated to data collection and dissemination, we want to be able to help communities respond to these changes by having the most accurate and detailed information possible. Our Spring Meeting was an opportunity to bring the scientific community together to identify areas where we are lacking data and discuss how we might begin to fill these gaps.”

Additional discussion during the meeting focused on measuring and understanding marine biodiversity with updates from the Marine Biodiversity Observing Network (MBON) the Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary, restoration of mesophotic and deep benthic communities following the Deepwater Horizon oil disaster and studies of highly migratory species, including marine mammals and some fish species.

Featured topics also included welcoming remarks and an overview of TAMU Galveston from Dr. Antonietta Quigg, Senior Associate Vice President for Research and Graduate Studies at TAMU, an observing community overview from Carl Gouldman, Director of the U.S. Integrated Ocean Observing System (U.S. IOOS), Brenner’s Executive Director update and reports and updates from GCOOS investigators and members. GCOOS Board Chair Kirsten Larsen also announced the results of the GCOOS Board elections:

Private Sector:

  • Dr. Rafael Ramos, Woods Hole Group (New to the Board)
  • Dr. Emily Hall, Mote Marine Laboratory (New to the Board)

Outreach & Education Sector:

  • Dr. Brian Roberts, Louisiana Universities Marine Consortium (LUMCON) (New to the Board)
    Government Sector:
  • Dr. Kate Hubbard, Florida Wildlife Research Institute (FWRI) of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) (Re-elected)

Academic Sector:

  • Dr. Nick Shay, University of Miami Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science (RSMAS) (Re-elected).

The GCOOS Board of Directors help chart the course for GCOOS and support ocean observing opportunities across the five Gulf states, along with international efforts throughout the wider Gulf of Mexico. Board members help to steer the GCOOS ship by setting organizational policies and providing direction to the executive director. Board members are elected from the private, governmental, academic and outreach and education sectors. Newly elected directors officially take their seats on the Board during the GCOOS Virtual Fall Meeting.

GCOOS Spring Meeting Speakers and Sessions

Marine Heatwaves and Threshold Impacts

Introduction: Dr. Jorge Brenner

“Marine Heatwaves”: Dr. Brian Dzwonkowski, Associate Professor, University of South Alabama and Dauphin Island Sea Lab. “Extreme ocean temperatures are a rapidly growing area of research. The motivation is that ecosystem and weather event impacts translate to economic, cultural, habitat loss and biodiversity impacts. To generate information needed for nowcasts and forecasts, we need to know where we have data, how it might be useful and specific examples that decision-makers can use.” Speaker slides

“Impact of Marine Heatwaves on Oyster Recruitment in Mobile Bay and Apalachicola Bay”: Dr. Jeff Plumlee, Louisiana State University, Fisheries Extension Specialist, Louisiana Sea Grant. “The oyster fishery in the Gulf of Mexico is historically large but there’s been a dramatic decline over the past 70 years. The industry peaked in 1950 then declined to historic lows from 2014-18. Trends correlate with environmental conditions, especially increasing anomalous temperature.” Speaker slides

“Heat Content and Hurricanes”: Dr. Scott Glenn, Rutgers Department of Marine and Coastal Sciences, provided a case study of heat content related to Hurricane Idalia. The work was a group effort that included NASEM GRP UGOS, the NOAA/Navy hurricane glider team, the IOOS hurricane model/data comparison team and others. “Results emphasize the need for subsurface temperature and salinity and essential ocean features to initialize realistic 3D ocean models. Oceans and hurricanes co-evolve — there is a feedback loop on intensity.” Speaker slides

Biodiversity and Data Opportunities

Introduction: Dr. Kim Yates

“Marine Biodiversity Observing Network (MBON) Opportunities for Collaboration in the Gulf of Mexico”: Enrique Montes, University of Miami, Cooperative Institute for Marine and Atmospheric Studies (CIMAS) and NOAA’s Atlantic Oceanographic and Meteorological Laboratory (AOML). “Progress is being made in seascape classification-machine learning dynamic maps that represent biomes with unique biogeochemical properties.” Speaker slides

“Research and Management of Remote Offshore Resources”: Marissa Nuttall, Research Specialist, Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary. “Long-term data sets are available as are data dashboards and data portals for benthic cover, water quality, water column profiles, fish communities, urchin surveys, nutrient profiles, carbonate data sets… The data dashboard serves as an early alert—it is set up with a ring of virtual buoys around the sanctuary.” Speaker slides

“Mesophotic and Deep Benthic Communities Restoration Following the DWH Oil Spill”: Kelly Martin, Program Analyst, National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS). “The goal is to improve understanding of the system, restore animals and biomass, manage and provide a framework for monitoring, and develop education and outreach capacity. There aren’t many examples of restoration in the deep sea to inform the project. As the science to inform is being developed, baselines must be established.” Speaker slides

“The Gulf Research Institute (GRI) for Highly Migratory Species: Advances in Understanding the Population Connectivity of Ocean Predators”: Dr. David Wells, Professor and Assistant Department Head of Graduate Affairs, Department of Marine Biology TAMU-Galveston. “The Gulf of Mexico is critical habitat and spawning grounds for many highly migratory species. There is top-down control of ecosystem health and structure dynamics. Significant declines have occurred for many species.” Speaker slides

“CETACEAN — the Compilation of Environmental, Threat, and Animal Data for Cetacean Population Health Analyses Platform”: Grant Craig, GCOOS Program Coordinator. “This is a five-year NOAA-led project funded by the DWH OOTIG (Open Ocean Trustee Implementation Group). Initial data mining efforts include Rice’s and sperm whales, and Risso’s, beaked, oceanic bottlenose and pantropical spotted dolphins.” Speaker slides

Additional Featured Speakers

“IOOS Program Office Updates”: Carl Gouldman, Director, U.S. Integrated Ocean Observing System. Speaker slides

“Executive Director Updates”: Dr. Jorge Brenner, Executive Director, GCOOS. Speaker slides

“The Mexican High Frequency Radar Network and Ocean Drifters in the Gulf of Mexico”: Dr. Xavier Flores, Observatorio Oceanográfico Regional Costero and Universidad Autónoma de Baja California. Dr. Flores is partnering with GCOOS to merge HFR data seamlessly throughout all stations in the Gulf of Mexico. Speaker slides

“Understanding Gulf Ocean Systems (UGOS): Offshore Technology Conference — Leading the Global Energy Evolution”: Dr. Steven DiMarco, Director of the Geochemical and Environmental Research Group (GERG) at TAMU.“The goal is to improve forecasting and predictive skill of the Loop Current and reduce risks to the offshore energy sector, with emphasis on the Yucatan area.” Speaker slides