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California Current Ecosystem Long-Term Ecological Research Site

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Ecological Transitions in the California Current Ecosystem: CCE-LTER Phase II  (University of California-San Diego Scripps Inst of Oceanography)

Research Focus

At the California Current Ecosystem (CCE) Long Term Ecological Research (LTER) site, an interdisciplinary group of scientists and students work to understand and communicate the effects of long-term climate variability on the California Current pelagic ecosystem.

CCE is a coastal upwelling biome, or ecological community, as found along the eastern margins of all major ocean basins. These are among the most productive coastal ecosystems in the world ocean. The CCE sustains fisheries for a variety of finfish and marine invertebrates, modulates weather patterns and the hydrologic cycle of much of the western U.S., and plays a vital role in the economies of myriad coastal communities.

A long-term goal for this site is to develop a specialized model for understanding and forecasting the consequences of El Niño and low-frequency climate forcing on pelagic ecosystems of the California Current and similar biomes.

Research Outcomes

New Climate Pattern: Long-term observations allowed CCE scientists to define a new climate pattern called the North Pacific Gyre Oscillation, which links physical ocean changes, such as fluctuations in salinity and nutrients, with biodiversity and ecosystem processes in the eastern North Pacific. This climate pattern may affect marine ecosystems around the world.

Food Web Base: CCE scientists developed a model that accurately predicts how the growth of phytoplankton at the base of the ocean's food web varies with depth and from inshore to offshore. These results help scientists forecast how physical and chemical changes affect marine fisheries and biodiversity.

Upwelling Matters: CCE scientists discovered two distinct ways in which cool, nutrient-rich water moves to the ocean surface (upwells) to create habitat for different sizes of zooplankton. Fish populations respond to these size differences -- the Pacific sardine prefers smaller zooplankton and the northern anchovy prefers larger -- with important implications for commercial fisheries.

Education & Outreach

CCE LTER trains undergraduates, graduate students and postdoctoral scholars across disciplinary boundaries. Through collaborations with formal and informal science education organizations, CCE reaches many schoolchildren each year as well, including local low-income and minority students.

In addition, the education and outreach program at CCE LTER teams scientists with local scientific and educational facilities engaging the 'K through gray' community in the process of ecological research and the understanding gained from it. 

Research Experiences for Teachers (RET) and Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) programs funded by NSF at CCE LTER enable science teachers and undergraduate students to work with CCE LTER experts to conduct research over the summer. The team also provides a recommended book series for children that focuses on marine life and ecology.

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Images (1 of )

  • scientist leaning over boat deck, with net
  • researchers study assemblage of barnacles
  • barnacles on plastic bottles
CCE LTER researchers, dip net sampling
James Leichter/CCE LTER
California Current Ecosystem LTER researchers examine a barnacle-covered bouy
Lara Dickens/CCE LTER
Bottles with barnacles
Lara Dickens/CCE LTER