Coastal Ocean Study

image of Oregon coastal ocean mooring

The physical and chemical environments of the coastal ocean set the stage for many ecological patterns and dynamics in the California Current Large Marine Ecosystem. Changes in weather, circulation, wave energy, productivity, and ocean chemistry connect large-scale shifts in the atmosphere and the ocean with the structure and function of coastal ecological communities.


PISCO‚Äôs oceanographic research focuses on how 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, approximately 5-10 km from shore. Together with collaborators, we monitor a network of nearshore long-term study sites to detect and describe patterns of change in the coastal ocean environment. 



Since 1999, PISCO has developed and maintained coastal nearshore moorings to measure coastal conditions. For available data, search our data catalog or contact us.

Featured sites

  • The Central Oregon Cape Perpetua mooring is high priority due to its location within a marine reserve, and an area most affected annually by low oxygen (hypoxic and anoxic) and low pH water. We maintain current meters and temperature and ocean chemistry sensors for the purposes of identifying source water and physiologically-relevant parameter levels such as pH, temperature, and dissolve oxygen.
  • ‚ÄčThermistor arrays in Central California have been used to measure temperature, an important indicator of upwelling patterns and timing and intensity of different water masses. These arrays complement the Hopkins Marine Station's Marine Life Observatory nearshore array of environmental sensors.


    The mainland mooring north of Santa Barbara at Purisma Point complements the arrays maintained by Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary and Santa Barbara Channel Long-term Ecological Research program by providing oceanographic information north of Point Conception, an important geographic break. Here, the oceanographic processes affecting ecological patterns are distinctly different north and south of Point Conception.



We make surf-zone water collections and deploy intertidal sensors. Parameters that we measure include temperature, nutrients, pH, light, and fluorescence. Not all parameters are measured at all sites. The following are some examples:

  • "Robo-mussels": In collaboration with Brian Helmuth from Northeastern University, PISCO scientists use robotic mussels to measure and record temperature, approximating the internal temperature of actual mussels. These data provide information for evaluating the thermal stresses experienced by organisms in the intertidal. Check out this New York Times article about these "robo mussels".
  • Temperature sensors: At all of our intertidal study sites, we measure temperature using small, rock-mounted sensors. 
  • pH and pCO2: In 2012, PISCO scientists teamed up with researchers from Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute and University of California, Davis to test new sensors mounted in the intertidal for studying pH patterns along the US West Coast. This work, funded by the National Science Foundation, was linked with moored sensors in similar areas and biological, physiological, and ecological research to assess impacts of ocean acidification on species and coastal ecosystems. Surf-zone sensors continue to be deployed at a number of PISCO long-term sites. In Oregon, these sensors are maintained in collaboration with the Surfrider Foundation, Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, the Nature Conservancy, and the Redfish Rocks Community Team. Check out the video by Surfrider.
  • nutrients and chlorophyll a: Surf-zone water collections are a straight-forward way to gather important environmental data. Nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorous species and chlorophyll a provide information about productivity patterns in the coastal waters. Historical data are available covering the entire span of PISCO's sites in California and Oregon. More recently, these collections are linked to specific experiments assessing impacts of coastal productivity on ecosystem processes.


We collaborate with a number of partner organizations to create a west coast-wide network of complementary efforts. Our partners include:

  • The Marine Life Observatory (MLO) at Hopkins Marine Station  maintains a Monterey Bay mooring with multiple environmental sensors to allow testing effects of pH, dissolved oxygen, currents, and other biological and chemical parameters on kelp forest functioning.
  • The Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute (MBARI) provides additional oceanographic information for the Monterey Bay area, provides expertise on intertidal pH sensors, and collaborates with PISCO scientists on analyses ocean acidification.
  • The National Marine Sanctuaries Program: The Channel IslandsMonterey Bay, and Olympic National Marine Sanctuaries collect oceanographic data and have worked closely with PISCO scientists to design and deploy nearshore moorings.
  • The Santa Barbara Channel LTER (SBC-LTER), in close collaboration with PISCO scientists, maintains moorings in the Santa Barbara Channel region.
  • The Coastal Data Information Program (CDIP) at Scripps Institute of Oceanography contributes to our efforts in Monterey Bay for monitoring local wave climate in conjunction with work by Mark Denny to use these data to develop new tools to bridge the gap between physical oceanography, meteorology, and nearshore ecology. PISCO scientists also utilize publicly available CDIP data about swell patterns along the California coast to test the role of changing wave exposure on biological communities.
  • Regional Ocean Observing Networks: PISCO participates in regional networks along the entire west coast-- Northwest NANOOS, Central and Northern California's CenCOOS, and Southern California's SCOOS



To learn more about PISCO's long-term studies, check out summaries about our work in kelp forests and rocky intertidal. Also access our sampling protocols and data.