The coastal ocean is one of the most important and dynamic regions of the world. It is a critical habitat for more than 90% of all marine organisms. These organisms are strongly affected by physical conditions, including winds, waves, rivers, as well as the topography of the sea floor and the shape of the coastline. Changes in these environmental conditions can affect productivity, species population sizes, and community structure within the coastal ocean ecosystem.
This ecosystem is also heavily affected by a variety of human activities, such as coastal development, pollution, commercial and recreational harvesting of marine resources, and a changing global climate. In order to understand how the coastal ecosystems will be affected by environmental perturbations (both natural and human-caused), we must understand the complex interplay between the physical forces and biological communities.
PISCO’s physical oceanographic research focuses on how physical processes in the marine environment, such as ocean currents, waves and winds, affect ecological dynamics in the coastal zone. We are particularly interested in the nearshore region, also known as the inner-shelf, which is approximately 5-10 kilometers from shore and less than 25 meters depth-- equivalent to 82 feet or 13.5 fathoms deep. This area is home to most of the biological communities we study.
The physical environment has both immediate and long-term effects on many organisms and populations. For example, many species grow faster in warmer waters, waves from winter storms can remove entire kelp beds, and fish can be retained or removed from favorable habitat by ocean currents. And, the ocean's physical processes also have more subtle and long-term effects on entire marine populations—for example, by helping to control the transport, settlement and retention of young, called larvae, that are essential for replenishing populations.