Sunday, September 1, 2013

New forecast system may be able to predict changes in ocean's ecosystem

Tamarra Kemsley in Nature World News: A group of researchers have developed a prototype of a forecast system designed to predict changes in the ocean's ecosystem months in advance. Called the JISAO Seasonal Coastal Ocean Prediction of the Ecosystem, or J-SCOPE for short, the tool feeds information from global climate models into a coastal ocean model of the Pacific Northwest coastline complete with the region's shelf breaks and river plumes. Added in the mix is a new oxygen model developed by researchers from the University of Washington that helps predict oxygen levels and other ocean water properties.

The end product, according to those behind it, is a nine-month forecast of sea surface temperatures, oxygen levels at a variety of depths, acidity and chlorophyll for the region off the coast of Oregon and Washington. Furthermore, scientists plan on adding sardine habitat maps by fall, with the hope of publishing forecasts specific to tuna and salmon, as well as other kinds of fish, in the future.

"We're taking the global climate model simulations and applying them to our coastal waters," Nick Bond, a UW research meteorologist, said in a press release. "What's cutting edge is how the tool connects the ocean chemistry and biology."

Still in its testing stage, however, scientists have yet to determine whether or not the predictions it forms are accurate, though things have looked promising. For example, in January, the prototype predicted unusually low oxygen for the summer off the Olympic coast. Initially, people scoffed, but as July rolled around and an unusually low-oxygen patch developed, skepticism turned into intrigue. Still, whether this was the result of mere coincidence has yet to be seen.

"Being able to predict future phytoplankton blooms, ocean temperatures and low-oxygen events could help fisheries managers," said Samantha Siedlecki, a research scientist at the UW-based Joint Institute for the Study of the Atmosphere and Ocean....

A school of fish, shot by Matthew Hoelscher, Wikimedia Commons via Flickr, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license

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