Ocean Observations for a Sustainable Blue Economy

Ocean Observations

for a Sustainable Blue Economy

Observing Technology to Conserve and Manage Resources and Protect Marine Ecosystems

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Who We Are

AOML scientists use ocean observations to help protect species, provide insight to support ecosystem management decisions, and understand and predict how environmental conditions change. We work with partners such as NOAA’s National Marine Fisheries Service, the U.S. Coast Guard, and university partners in support of NOAA’s mission to conserve and manage coastal and marine ecosystems and resources. Using the latest developments in observing technology, our oceanographers can provide tools to improve stock assessment and management of commercial fish species, help sustain healthy ecosystems, and protect endangered marine species.

This program supports four primary objectives: 

  • Improve ship safety and protect endangered Right Whales by reducing the number of ship strikes with the Mandatory Ship Reporting System.
  • Improve stock assessment and management of Atlantic Bluefin Tuna by producing tools to monitor changes in favorable habitat areas.
  • Conduct research to assess how projected ocean warming may impact future habitat for commercially important fish species.
  • Study larval recruitment within the Mesoamerican reef system and the Caribbean to determine the importance of regional connectivity to local fish populations.

| Gustavo Goni, Ph.D

| Sang-Ki Lee, Ph.D

| Libby Johns, Ph.D

| Ryan Smith

| Joaquin Trinanes, Ph.D

| Matthieu Le’Henaff, Ph.D

Top News

Does the Risk of Vibrio Infection Increase in a Warming Planet?

In a recent study published in Lancet Planetary Health, Joaquin Trinanes, a scientist at NOAA’s Atlantic Oceanographic Meteorological Laboratory (AOML), uses a new generation of climate, population, and socioeconomic projections to map future scenarios of distribution and season suitability for the pathogenic bacteria, Vibrio. For the first time, a global estimate of the population at risk of vibriosis for different time periods is provided.

Close up photo of Vibrio bacteria

Read More News

Estimated observations of chlorophyll with simulated observations from satellite and 1000 BGC-Argo floats.
Photo of Sargassum Floating in Open Water. Photo Credit: Credit: NOAA Teacher at Sea Program, NOAA Ship OREGON II
Map showing surface current velocity vectors (in red) measured with the NOAA Ship Nancy Foster's hull-mounted acoustic Doppler current profiler

Research Impacts & Key Findings

From Successful Mandatory Ship Reporting

Better Speed Regulation in Strike Zones

Self-reported vessel speeds indicated that most ships travelled between 10 and 16 (range = 5–20 +) knots. Ship speeds generally decreased from 2009 to 2013 following implementation of vessel speed restrictions. Combined with declines in shipping activity, these actions likely resulted in lowered collision risks for right whales.

Source

Increased Avoidance

A survey indicated ~70% of ships comply with the reporting requirement, distribute information on right whales and ship strikes to crew members, were more alert about avoiding/watching for right whales, and that the ships operation may change to avoid an interaction.

Source

Ship Strike Mortality Reduction

Overall, we estimated that vessel speed restrictions reduced total ship strike mortality risk levels for North Atlantic right whales by 80–90%. To our knowledge, this is the most comprehensive assessment to date of the utility of vessel speed restrictions in reducing the threat of vessel collisions to large whales. Our findings indicate that vessel speed limits are a powerful tool for reducing anthropogenic mortality risk for North Atlantic right whales.

Source

From Actionable Fisheries Research and Data Derived from Global Observing Systems

Ocean Products

Bluefin Tuna Index

The Bluefin Tuna Index provides detailed information about bluefin tuna habitat to management bodies to inform decision making. The index tracks favorable habitat for the bluefin tuna in near-real time and is used by NOAA Fisheries in stock assessments. With better-informed catch limits and location information, commercial fishing operations are able to harvest their catch both successfully and sustainably.

Mandatory Ship Reporting System

The Mandatory Ship Reporting system helps reduce ship strike mortality of the North Atlantic Right Whale population, which has struggled to recover from a decreased population despite being a protected species. This reporting system aims to educate merchant mariners on the plight of the right whale, and to provide information about reducing the risk of ship strikes.

Future-Focused Habitat Research

The Atlantic bluefin tuna spawn in the Gulf of Mexico from April to June. While bluefin tuna can tolerate colder waters than other tropical tunas, they are adversely affected by warm waters, and will avoid places with warmer features, such as the Loop Current in the Gulf of Mexico. This research looks at tolerable Atlantic bluefin tuna habitat under several different ocean warming scenarios to study the potential impact of a warming ocean on those fisheries in the Gulf of Mexico.

Sargassum Inundation Report

Sargassum, a type of floating algae, can inundate coastal areas can cause significant economic, environmental and public health harm. These reports assess the risk of coastal inundation in the Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico regions using the Alternative Floating Algae Index fields generated by the University of South Florida. This tool analyzes areas at 50km (31 miles) per pixel and a, classifies the risk of sargassum inundation.

bluefintuna

Finding suitable habitat

The preferred physical environments for Atlantic Bluefin Tuna larvae depend on features in the Gulf of Mexico such as eddies. The proxy larvae index can explain about 58% of the recruitment variability based on the changes in these ocean features, and is currently used to guide NOAA’s interdisciplinary research cruises. 

Suitable habitat conditions for bluefin tuna have changed over time. In this tool, red indicates suitable habit and blue is unsuitable (too warm). Dots are observations of bluefin tuna larvae presence. This data tool produces images for download as PNG files. To use the tool, select  an image by date below. This index is used by NOAA Fisheries to guide annual Bluefin Tuna larvae sampling surveys, and in support of Bluefin Tuna stock assessments.

Real-time & Delayed-time maps

This tool provides access to real-time as well as delayed-time maps of BFT_Index distribution in the Gulf of Maps starting in 1993, which are used to track favorable areas for occurrence of bluefin tuna (Thunnus thynnus, BFT) larvae.

BFT Spawning in Gulf of Mexico is reported during the Northern Hesmisphere Spring months, with BFT larvae being captured mostly from early-April to late-May. Hence, real-time computation of BFT_Index is provided between March 1st and May 31st of each year.

Real-time Bluefin Index computation period: March 1st – May 31 st

Dates available: 03/01/1993 – Current Spring

Notice: Blank maps indicate that conditions in the Gulf of Mexico are overall unfavorable for occurrence of BFT larvae.

Gulf of Mexico BFT_Index



You may select a different date to display the BFT_Index below:

BFT_Index by date:
shipreporting

Reducing mortality of the North Atlantic right whale

Collisions with ships (or “strikes”) are a major source of injury and death for the critically endangered North Atlantic right whale. In an effort to reduce the number of ship strikes, NOAA Fisheries and the U.S. Coast Guard, with support from AOML,  developed and implemented Mandatory Ship Reporting systems. The systems were endorsed by the International Maritime Organization, a specialized organization of the United Nations.

The Mandatory Ship Reporting System was formally adopted through International Maritime Organization Resolution A.858(20) in December, 1998, and implemented by a USCG Federal Register notice (66 FR 58066). The systems commenced operation on July 1, 1999.

All commercial vessels 300 gross tons and greater are required to report to a shore-based station when entering two designated report areas where right wales are found, including: The waters of Cape Cod Bay, Massachusetts Bay, the Great South Channel, and Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary along the coast near the Florida/Georgia border.

Reporting ships are required to provide their time and location of entry into the system, speed, and destination – no other aspect of navigation is affected. In return, the ship receives an automated message that provides additional information on how mariners can reduce the likelihood of whale strikes, including recent right whale sighting locations.

Right Whales Ship Strikes. Image Credit: NOAA.
Right Whales Ship Strikes. Image Credit: NOAA.

Summarized information gathered via the Mandatory Ship Reporting System includes ship traffic volumes, routes, and ports of call, and assists in tailoring any necessary future ship strike reduction measures.

The Mandatory Ship Reporting System is jointly operated and funded by the USCG and NOAA Fisheries, with assistance from NOAA’s Atlantic Oceanographic and Meteorological Laboratory which provides technical support by hosting the software engine, storing and parsing data, and generating statistics on compliance with the Mandatory Ship Reporting System.

The Mandatory Ship Reporting System has received and processed over 20,000 reports from approximately 4,000 distinct commercial vessels. All vessels reporting to the Mandatory Ship Reporting system are provided with a response message containing information on how to avoid collisions with whales, speed limit requirements, and the location of latest whale sightings.

ipcchabitat

Loop Current effects on fisheries

The fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC-AR4) climate model simulations project that the upper ocean in the Gulf of Mexico may increase by more than 2°C by the end of the 21st Century, and suggest that the Gulf of Mexico may become an unsuitable habitat for bluefin tuna spawning due to warmer waters. However, since the IPCC-AR4 models have a very coarse resolution (typically around 100km), the simulated changes in the  important factors for the upper ocean temperature response to the changing climate (the strength, position and eddy-shedding characteristics of the Loop Current), are far from realistic.

By zooming in on these features in high resolution models, AOML scientists can look at potential habitat shifts for bluefin tuna in the future. Using this technique, our researchers note that the sea surface temperature increase is much less pronounced in the northern Gulf of Mexico, away from Florida’s west coast. This could be caused by a weakened Loop Current.

AOML scientists predict a 20-25% slowing of this current (based on its larger constituent, the Meridional Overturning Circulation). Also, heat budget analysis for the surface layer indicates this may have a cooling effect, especially in the Northern Gulf of Mexico. The impacts of this to fisheries would be a northward shifting habitat for bluefin tuna. 

This research indicates that the area of spawning habitat for the bluefin tuna may not be as drastically reduced as the IPCC-AR4 has projected. AOML researchers will continue their collaboration with NOAA’s Southeast Fisheries Science Center to further refine these projections using additional data and improved ocean modeling techniques.

Loop Current visible on Sea Surface Temperature observed by satellite (source: NOAA/AOML OceanViewer).
Loop Current visible on Sea Surface Temperature observed by satellite (source: NOAA/AOML OceanViewer).

We are on the forefront of genomics research and applications.

Omics for the Blue Economy.

Omics technology allows researchers to take observations and conduct analysis that help stakeholders and managers make decisions to benefit their customers. With Omics, we can:

  • Understand the Microbiome
  • Detect Higher Trophic Levels
  • Improve Environmental Monitoring
sargassum

A commonly found floating algae known as “Sargassum” has inundated the coastlines of the tropical Atlantic and Caribbean since 2011. These alga float at the sea surface, where they can aggregate to form large mats in the open ocean.  A 2020 study led by researchers at AOML shows how Sargassum entered and flourished in the tropical Atlantic and Caribbean.A tool based on that research has been developed to help managers deal with these periodic inundations.

This map shows the pathway by which Sargassum exits the Sargasso Sea and makes it's way to the tropical Atlantic and Caribbean Sea.
This map shows the pathway by which Sargassum exits the Sargasso Sea and makes it's way to the tropical Atlantic and Caribbean Sea.
The University of South Florida’s Alternative Floating Algae Index is used as a core input to analyze coastal areas at a resolution of 50km per pixel. The risk of sargassum inundation is then classified into three categories. View the reports to learn more.
The University of South Florida’s Alternative Floating Algae Index is used as a core input to analyze coastal areas at a resolution of 50km per pixel. The risk of sargassum inundation is then classified into three categories. View the reports to learn more.

Featured Publication

Muhling, B. A., S.-K. Lee, J. T. Lamkin and Y. Liu, 2011. Predicting the Effects of Climate Change on Bluefin Tuna (Thunnus thynnus) Spawning habitat in the Gulf of Mexico. ICES Journal of Marine Science, doi:10.1093/icesjms/fsr008

Muhling, B. A., S.-K. Lee, J. T. Lamkin and Y. Liu, 2011. Predicting the Effects of Climate Change on Bluefin Tuna (Thunnus thynnus) Spawning habitat in the Gulf of Mexico. ICES Journal of Marine Science, doi:10.1093/icesjms/fsr008

Abstract:

Atlantic bluefin tuna (BFT) is a highly migratory species that feeds in cold waters in the North Atlantic, but migrates to tropical seas to spawn. Global climate-model simulations forced by future greenhouse warming project that upper-ocean temperatures in the main western Atlantic spawning ground, the Gulf of Mexico (GOM), will increase substantially, potentially altering the temporal and spatial extent of BFT spawning activity. In this study, an ensemble of 20 climate model simulations used in the Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change fourth Assessment Report (IPCC-AR4) predicted mean temperature changes…

Download PDF

Predicting the effects of climate change on bluefin tuna (Thunnus thynnus) spawning habitat in the Gulf of Mexico

Muhling, B. A., S.-K. Lee, J. T. Lamkin and Y. Liu, 2011. Predicting the Effects of Climate Change on Bluefin Tuna (Thunnus thynnus) Spawning habitat in the Gulf of Mexico. ICES Journal of Marine Science, doi:10.1093/icesjms/fsr008

Abstract:

Atlantic bluefin tuna (BFT) is a highly migratory species that feeds in cold waters in the North Atlantic, but migrates to tropical seas to spawn. Global climate-model simulations forced by future greenhouse warming project that upper-ocean temperatures in the main western Atlantic spawning ground, the Gulf of Mexico (GOM), will increase substantially, potentially altering the temporal and spatial extent of BFT spawning activity. In this study, an ensemble of 20 climate model simulations used in the Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change fourth Assessment Report (IPCC-AR4) predicted mean temperature changes…

Download PDF

Muhling, B. A., S.-K. Lee, J. T. Lamkin and Y. Liu, 2011. Predicting the Effects of Climate Change on Bluefin Tuna (Thunnus thynnus) Spawning habitat in the Gulf of Mexico. ICES Journal of Marine Science, doi:10.1093/icesjms/fsr008

Publications & References

  • 2021

    Baker-Austin, C., J. TRINANES, and J. Martinez-Urtaza. The new tools revolutionizing Vibrio science. Environmental Microbiology, 22(10):4096-4100 (https://doi.org/10.1111/1462-2920-15083) (2020).

    Jiang, L.-Q., R.A. Feely, R. Wanninkhof, D. Greeley, L. Barbero, S. Alin, B.R. Carter, D. Pierrot, C. Featherstone, J. HOOPER, C. Melrose, N. Monacci, J.D. Sharp, S. Shellito, Y.-Y Xu, A. Kozyr, R.H. Byrne, W.-J. Cai, J. Cross, G.C. Johnson, B. Hales, C. Langdon, J. Mathis, J. Salisbury, and D.W. Townsend. Coastal Ocean Data Analysis Product in North America (CODAP-NA)—An internally consistent data product for discrete inorganic carbon, oxygen, and nutrients on the North American ocean margins. Earth System Science Data, 13(6):2777-2799 (https://doi.org/10.5194/essd-13-2777-2021) (2021).

    Kearney, K.A., S.J. Bograd, E. Drenkard, F.A. GOMEZ, M. Haltuch, A.J. Hermann, M.G. Jacox, I.C. Kaplan, S. Koenigstein, J.Y. Luo, M. Masi, B. Muhling, M. Pozo Buil, and P.A. Woodworth-Jefcoats. Using global scale earth-system models for regional fisheries applications. Frontiers in Marine Science, 8:622206 (https://doi.org/10.3389/fmars.2021.622206) (2021).

    Miron, P., M.J. Olascoaga, F.J. Beron-Vera, N.F. Putman, J. TRINANES, R. LUMPKIN, and G.J. GONI. Clustering of marine debris- and Sargassum-like drifters explained by inertial particle dynamics. Geophysical Research Letters, 47(19):e2020GL089874 (https://doi.org/10.1029/2020GL089874) (2020).

    TRINANES, J., and J. Martinez-Urtaza. Future scenarios of risk of Vibrio infections in a warming planet: A global mapping study. The Lancet Planetary Health, 5(7):E426-E435 (https://doi.org/10.1016/S2542-5196(21)00169-8) (2021).

    Valle-Levinson, A., V.H. Kourafalou, R.H. SMITH, and Y. Androulidakis. Flow structures over mesophotic coral ecosystems in the eastern Gulf of Mexico. Continental Shelf Research, 207:104219 (https://doi.org/10.1016/j.csr.2020.104219) (2020).

  • 2020

    Androulidakis, Y., V. Kourafalou, L.R. Hole, M. LE HENAFF, and H.-S. Kang. Pathway of oil spills from potential offshore Cuban exploration: Influence of ocean circulation. Journal of Marine Science and Engineering, 8(7):535 (https://doi.org/10.3390/jmse8070535) (2020).

    Frys, C., A. Saint-Amand, M. LE HÉNAFF, J. Figueiredo, A. Kuba, B. Walker, J. Lambrechts, V. Vallaeys, D. Vincent, and E. Hanert. Fine-scale coral connectivity pathways in the Florida Reef Tract: Implications for conservation and restoration. Frontiers in Marine Science, 7:312 (https://doi.org/10.3389/fmars.2020.00312) (2020).

    JOHNS, E.M., R. LUMPKIN, N.F. Putman, R.H. SMITH, F.E. Muller-Karger, D. Rueda-Roa, C. Hu, M. Wang, M.T. Brooks, L.J. Gramer, and F.E. Werner. The establishment of a pelagic Sargassum population in the tropical Atlantic: Biological consequences of a basin-scale long distance dispersal event. Progress in Oceanography, 182:102269 (https://doi.org/10.1016/j.pocean.2020.102269) (2020).

    LE HÉNAFF, M., F.E. Muller-Karger, V.H. Kourafalou, D. Otis, K.A. Johnson, L. McEachron, and H.-S. Kang. Coral mortality event in the Flower Garden Banks of the Gulf of Mexico in July 2016: Local hypoxia due to cross-shelf transport of coastal flood waters? Continental Shelf Research, 190:103988 (https://doi.org/10.1016/j.csr.2019.103988) (2019).

    Putman, N., R. LUMPKIN, M.J. Olascoaga, J. TRINANES, and G.J. GONI. Improving transport predictions of pelagic Sargassum. Journal of Experimental Marine Biology and Ecology, 529:151398 (https://doi.org/10.1016.j.embe. 2020.151398) (2020).

    Wanninkhof, R., J. TRINANES, G.-H. Park, D. Gledhill, and A. Olsen. Large decadal changes in air-sea CO2 fluxes in the Caribbean Sea. Journal of Geophysical Research-Oceans, 124(10):6960-6982 (https://doi.org/10.1029/2019JC015366) (2019).

    Wanninkhof, R., D. Pierrot, K. Sullivan, L. Barbero, and J. TRINANES. A 17-year dataset of surface water fugacity of CO2 along with calculated pH, aragonite saturation state, and air-sea CO2 fluxes in the northern Caribbean Sea. Earth System Science Data, 12(3):1489-1509 (https://doi.org/10.5194/essd-12-1489-2020) (2020).

  • 2018

    Putman, N.F., Goni, G., Gramer, L., Hu, C., Johns, E., Trinanes, J. and Wang, M., 2018: Simulating transport pathways of pelagic Sargassum from the Equatorial Atlantic into the Caribbean Sea. Progress in Oceanography, 165:205-214 (doi:10.1016/j.pocean.2018.06.009).
  • 2017

    Muhling, B. A., R. Brill, J. T. Lamkin, M. A. Roffer, S.-K. Lee, Y. Liu, and F. Muller-Karger, 2017: Projections of future habitat use by Atlantic bluefin tuna: mechanistic vs. correlative distribution models. ICES. J. Marine Science, 74(3):698-716 (doi:10.1093/icesjms/fsw215).

    Carrillo,L.,  J.T. Lamkin, E.M. Johns, L. Vasquez-Yeomans, F. Sosa-Cordero, E. Malca, R.H.Smith, and T. Gerard, 2017: Linking oceanographic processes and marine resources in the western Caribbean Sea Large Marine Ecosystem subarea. Elsevier, Environmental Development, 22:84-96 (doi:10.1016/j.envdev.2017.01.004).

  • 2016

    Domingues, R., G. Goni, F. Bringas, B. Muhling, D. Lindo-Atichati, and J. Walter (2016). Variability of preferred environmental conditions for Atlantic bluefin tuna (Thunnus thynnus) larvae in the Gulf of Mexico during 1993-2011. Fisheries Oceanography, 25(3): 320-336.

    Carrillo, L., E. M. Johns, R. H. Smith, and J.T. Lamkin, 2016: Pathways and hydrography in the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef System, Part 2: Thermohaline structure.  Cont. Shelf Res., 120, 41-58, (doi:10.1016/j.csr.2016.03.014).

    Lee, T.N., N. Melo, N. Smith, E.M. Johns, C.R. Kelble, R.H. Smith, and P.B. Ortner, 2016: Circulation and water renewal of Florida Bay. Bull. Am. Meteorol. Soc., 92(2):153-180, (doi:10.5343/bms.2015.1019).

  • 2015

    Karnauskas, M., M.J. Schirripa, J.K. Craig, G.S. Cook, C.R. Kelble, J.J. Agar, B.A. Black, D.B. Enfield, D. Lindo-Atichati, B.A. Muhling, K.M. Purcell, P.M. Richards, and C. Wang, 2015: Evidence of climate-driven ecosystem reorganization in the Gulf of Mexico. Global Change Biology, 21(7):2554-2568, (doi:10.1111/gcb.12894).

    Muller-Karger, F.E., J.P. Smith, S. Werner, R. Chen, M. Roffer, Y. Liu, B. Muhling, D. Lindo-Atichati, J. Lamkin, S. Cerdeira-Estrada, and D.B. Enfield, 2015: Natural variability of surface oceanographic conditions in the offshore Gulf of Mexico. Prog. in Oceanogr., 134:54-76, (doi:10.1016/j.pocean.2014.12.007.)

    Muhling, B.A., Y. Liu, S.-K. Lee, J.T. Lamkin, M.A. Roffer, F. Muller-Karger, and J.W. Walter, 2015: Potential impact of climate change on the Intra-Americas Seas: Part 2: Implications for Atlantic bluefin tuna and skipjack tuna adult and larval habitats. J. Mar. Syst., 148:1-13, (doi:10.1016/j.marsys.2015.01.010).

    Carrillo, L., E. M. Johns, R. H. Smith, J. T. Lamkin, and J. L. Largier, 2015: Pathways and hydrography in the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef System Part 1: Circulation. Continental Shelf Research, 109:164-176, (doi:10.1016/j.csr.2015.09.014).

  • 2012

    Lindo-Atichati, D., Bringas, F., Goni, G., Muhling, B., Muller-Karger, F.E. and Habtes, S. (2012) Varying mesoscale structures influence larval fish distribution in the northern Gulf of Mexico. Mar. Ecol. Prog. Ser. 463:245-257.

    Lindo-Atichati, D.,F. Bringas, G.J. Goni, B. Muhling, F.E. Muller-Karger and S. Habtes, 2012: Varying mesoscale structures influence larval fish distribution in the northern Gulf of Mexico. Mar. Ecol. Progr. Series, 463:245-257, doi:10.3354/meps09860.

  • 2011

    Muhling, Barbara A., J. T. Lamkin, J. M. Quattro, R. H. Smith, M. A. Roberts, M. A. Roffer, and K. Ramirez, 2011: Collection of larval bluefin tuna (Thunnus thynnus) outside documented western Atlantic spawning grounds. Bull. Mar. Sci., 87(3):687-694.

    Muhling, B. A., S.-K. Lee, J. T. Lamkin, and Y. Liu, 2011: Predicting the Effects of Climate Change on Bluefin Tuna (Thunnus thynnus) Spawning habitat in the Gulf of Mexico. ICES. J. Mar. Sci., 68(6):1051-1062, doi:10.1093/icesjms/fsr008.

  • 2010

    Muhling, B.A., Lamkin, J.T. and Roffer, M.A. (2010) Predicting the occurrence of Atlantic bluefin tuna (Thunnus thynnus) Fish. Oceanogr.Preferred environmental conditions for Atlantic bluefin tuna larvae larvae in the northern Gulf of Mexico: building a classification model from archival data. Fish Oceanogr. 2(19):526-539.

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