Coastal Physical Oceanography at Oregon State University

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Coastal Oceanography at COAS/OSU

Oceanographers at OSU have been leaders in the field of coastal oceanography since the beginning of the oceanography program at OSU. In the 1960's, the focus of this effort was the productive upwelling system in the coastal ocean off Oregon and Washington, culminating in the Coastal Upwelling Experiments in 1972-1973. While work continued off Oregon, OSU oceanographers (physical, biological, chemical and optical) expanded their efforts to work off northwest Africa and Peru in the second half of the1970's (in the Coastal Upwelling cosystem Analysis program). This was one of the first truly interdisciplinary oceanographic field programs.

Attention returned to the west coast of North America during the 1980's, in field programs measuring the dynamics of the currents in the coastal ocean off northern California (the Coastal Ocean Dynamics Experiment). Work continued off northern California in the late 1980's and early 1990's, and again became more interdisciplinary during the Coastal Transition Zone and Eastern Boundary Current initiatives. These more recent field programs have extended farther offshore than the traditional nearshore domain of coastal oceanographers. These field studies explored the long filaments of cold water that stretch hundreds of kilometers from the coast in satellite images such as the example shown in the figure to the left. The interaction between the coastal ocean (over the shelf) and the deep ocean has recently been explored off southern Oregon in a program looking at "Coastal Jet Separation."

OSU oceanographers are continuing to provide key measurements using new technology to determine the coastal marine ecosystem response to varying environmental conditions off Oregon and northern California. Some of this activity is taking place in a northeastern Pacific field program that is part of the US Global Ocean Ecosystem Experiment. Coastal ocean modeling at OSU will use the data collected in this program to advance our ability to simulate the biophysical interactions in coastal ocean ecosystems off Oregon in numerical models.

Besides these large field programs, there are many efforts by individual COAS oceanographers in all oceanographic disciplines aimed at increasing our understanding of the coastal ocean. A coastal ocean radar system has been installed that gives high-resolution surface current fields along the entire Oregon coast, while autonomous vehicles with new sensors are deployed from small vessels to allow studies of currents, water properties and biology over the shelf at a level of detail not previously possible. OSU oceanographers also use circulation modeling and a wide variety of satellite remote sensing techniques to investigate the spatial and temporal characteristics of the ocean circulation and biology of the coastal regions. Collectively, these diverse and multidisciplinary approaches to studying the coastal ocean will advance our understanding of the interaction between the coastal ocean ecosystem and environmental variability caused by both natural fluctuations in the climate and human activity.