Santa Barbara, US: Scientists at UC Santa Barbara (UCSB) developed new methods for studying how environmental factors and climate affect giant kelp forest ecosystems at unprecedented spatial and temporal scales. The research team received funding from NASA and the National Science Foundation.
The scientists merged data collected underwater by UCSB divers with satellite images of giant kelp canopies taken by the Landsat 5 Thematic Mapper. In this marriage of marine ecology and satellite mapping, the team of UCSB scientists tracked the dynamics of giant kelp –– the world’s largest alga –– throughout the entire Santa Barbara Channel at approximately six-week intervals over a period of 25 years, from 1984 through 2009. The findings published in the feature article of the May 16 issue of Marine Ecology Progress Series.
Forests of giant kelp are located in temperate coastal regions throughout the world. They are among the most productive ecosystems on Earth, and giant kelp itself provides food and habitat for numerous ecologically and economically important near-shore marine species.
Giant kelp is particularly sensitive to changes in climate that alter wave and nutrient conditions. The scientists found that the dynamics of giant kelp growing in exposed areas of the Santa Barbara Channel were largely controlled by the occurrence of large wave events. Meanwhile, kelp growing in protected areas was most limited by periods of low nutrient levels.
Satellite data were augmented by information collected by the Santa Barbara Coastal Long Term Ecological Research Project (SBC LTER), which is based at UCSB and is part of the National Science Foundation’s Long Term Ecological Research (LTER) Network.