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What drives patterns in ocean change?

The ocean varies immensely over space and time. But how can we understand what drives the patterns in the differences of the ocean over space and time? How may those differences influences what kind of animals lives where?

Small scale ocean currents

There are dominant features that predictably form in ocean water that can clearly be seen from the maps of the surface currents. However, until 2015 scientists didn’t know the details of where or what features existed in the ocean around Palmer Research Station in the ocean. This map was generated by Coastal Radar stations deployed around the Palmer Research Station in November 2014 as part of the CONVERGE research mission.

Now that we have some data, do you think the same features are in the same places over time?

Knowing where we are

The science team deployed three CODAR stations marked with orange triangles at: Palmer Research Station, within the Joubin Islands, and within the Wauwermans Islands.

The gray area is land and the blue area is the ocean. The black arrows in the ocean represent the direction that the surface water was moving (it does not tell us anything about the speed the water is moving).

Reading a CODAR map

The figure plots the movement of the surface water only due to the tides (for example, not because of wind). Remember, the black arrows in the ocean represent the direction that the surface water was moving (it does not tell us anything about the speed the water is moving).

So what can we see in terms of features in the ocean…

Where are those features?

There are dominant features that form in ocean water around Palmer Research Station.

What do you notice about the location and shape of the features over time?

Are they always the same? Sometimes the same and sometimes different? Always different?

Is there a pattern in the movement of the features?

What else could be influencing the direction and movement of the surface water?

What about the tides?

Around Palmer Research Station the tide changes over the course of a month from there being two high and low tides a day (semi-diurnal) to there just being one high and low tide a day (diurnal).

The data on the left are from a time period in February 2015 when there were two high tides and two low tides each day (see the red dot move across the blue section of the Sea Level graph below to know where in the tidal cycle the data are from). Whereas, the data on the right are from a time period in February 2015 when there was one high tide and one low tide each day (the yellow section of the Sea Level graph below).

What do you notice about the location and shape of the features over time between the two animations?

Are the patterns in the movement of the features the same or different between the two animations?

NOTE – For more information about differences among tide cycles visit the NOAA Ocean Service Tide Cycle website.

How may animals respond to the shift between tides?

What if we looked over a couple weeks as the daily tide cycle transitioned from two highs/two lows per day to one high/on low per day and back again?

Are they always the same? Sometimes the same and sometimes different? Always different?

Is there a pattern in the movement of the features?

Why is this important? The location and strength of the features changes over time with the tidal cycles. What could that mean for which animals live where and when?

Those are some of the questions the researchers of CONVERGE are trying to answer. What do you think?

Acknowledgements
Kristin Hunter-Thomson Story Development
Laura Palamara Data Visualization
Dr. Josh Kohut Science Advisor
Lucas Marxen Interface Development
Dan Farnsworth Website Development

Funded by the National Science Foundation Grant No. PLR-1525635.

[Tidal Current Map]