The Kelp Forest Array (KFA) is a state-of‐the‐art cabled platform located near a kelp forest in California’s Monterey Bay that allows observational and experimental science to build our understanding of the local impacts of global climate change and human activities. The KFA will enable data gathering of oceanographic metrics such as water temperature, current speed and direction, dissolved oxygen concentration, salinity and acidification (pH) as well as support short-term experiments. The array’s data communication and power supply enable the capabilities of an onshore laboratory to be located in the natural environment, yielding more true-to-life results from a suite of climate and oceanographic instrumentation.
The location within a marine protected area near Stanford’s Hopkins Marine Station in Pacific Grove, Calif. provides an ideal setting to examine climate change and human impacts on marine life. This project, which has a 10+ year designed life, is a true collaboration between engineers and marine scientists.
Kelp forests are critical marine habitat in the California Current and throughout the world’s cool nearshore environments, harboring one of the greatest diversities of biota in marine habitats. Kelp forests provide nursery habitat for many marine organisms, support fisheries and boast both economical and recreational benefits. Diving in a kelp forest is akin to entering a redwood grove, with a massive, colorful canopy of seaweed rising up among shafts of sunlight. The water teams with ocean life including rockfish, seals, otters, crabs and shore birds. These rich environments are threatened by the impact of climate change and human activity.
The intent of the project is threefold. The KFA is monitoring important climate change variables such as the level of carbon dioxide (CO2), alkalinity (pH) and oxygen (O2) as well as currents, temperature, salinity, chlorophyll fluorescence and water turbidity (clarity) within and near an important kelp forest habitat.
Secondly, the array is a platform for marine science experiments for researchers examining the impacts of climate change and human activities on marine ecosystems. With 1.3 kilowatts of power and virtually unlimited broadband capabilities, the KFA allows scientists to move their laboratory into the natural environment, eliminating the stress of relocating marine organisms to the laboratory tanks. The array provides the power and technology to support a wide variety of instruments and is monitored in real-time with live data streaming.
The kelp forest array, when it is equipped with an underwater video camera, will also provide important public outreach. A live video feed will be available online and potentially in the adjacent Monterey Bay Aquarium where viewers will enjoy watching life in the kelp forest in real time.
During August 2012, the first experiment was connected to the KFA. The Monterey Observatory Tower Node, nicknamed MOTOWN, was an 8m underwater tower that recorded levels of current velocity, temperature, salinity, dissolved oxygen and other metrics at a mind boggling rate of ~1 gigabyte per hour, allowing researchers to assess the impact of deep ocean waters upwelling into Monterey Bay. MOTOWN provided insights into how quickly these cold, low oxygen deep ocean upwelling waters mix with the surface waters of the kelp forest.
The second major experimental study at the KFA will be an in situ manipulation of ocean acidity conducted between researchers at MBARI and Stanford University. Modeled on MBARI’s deep water Free Ocean Carbon Experiment (FOCE), the shallow water version (swFOCE) will be installed on the Kelp Forest Array in 2013, and will allow for experiments on the condition and energetics of kelp forest species that may be susceptible to ocean acidification. The system can also be modified to look at effects of low oxygen and brine on individual species.
The COS-supported Kelp Forest Array is a backbone for research that may answer previously unanswerable questions.