Sanctuary Integrated Monitoring Network
Monitoring Project

West Coast Obs and the Partnership for Interdisciplinary Studies of Coastal Oceans (PISCO): Oceanography component

Principal Investigator(s)

  • Mark Carr
    University of California, Santa Cruz
  • Pete Raimondi
    University of California, Santa Cruz
  • Margaret McManus
    University of Hawai'i at Manoa


  • David and Lucille Packard Foundation
  • Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation
  • Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary
Start Date: August 01, 1999

The Partnership for Interdisciplinary Studies of Coastal Oceans (PISCO) Oceanographic monitoring program was started as part of the initial PISCO grant from the David and Lucile Packard Foundation in 1999. It is now co-funded through a partnership of the David and Lucile Packard Foundation, the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary (MBNMS), and the Central and Northern California Ocean Observing System (CeNCOOS). Future funding will be through combined support from CeNCOOS and the National Science Foundation (NSF). The goal of PISCO is to investigate the nearshore rocky reef marine ecosystems of the west coast of the U.S. in an innovative, coordinated, and interdisciplinary fashion in order to advance scientific frontiers and to provide better understanding for conservation and management decisions.

The PISCO physical oceanographic research program is a cooperative effort among three of the four PISCO universities: Oregon State University, UC Santa Cruz, and UC Santa Barbara. Similar to PISCO's intertidal and subtidal ecological research, patterns detected through our large-scale, long-term oceanographic monitoring program motivate and direct additional studies on the processes responsible for the structure and dynamics of kelp forest and intertidal communities. Physical oceanographic monitoring in MBNMS is conducted year-round using moorings located throughout the Sanctuary (Figure 1).

Monitoring began in 1999 and was expanded significantly in 2005 with the addition of 11 MBNMS-funded moorings (Figure 1). Moorings are used to monitor ocean temperature at key depths (Figure 2), with salinity and ocean currents (Figure 3) also measured at some sites. Instruments on moorings are programmed to record data at 2 to 4 minute intervals, and are recovered and downloaded roughly every 3 months.

Downloaded data are quality controlled and uploaded to PISCO’s database where they can be accessed freely ( Data from the 11 MBNMS moorings also can be accessed through a NOAA website (

Summary to Date

PISCO's physical oceanographic monitoring program provides information critical to our understanding of kelp forest and rocky intertidal ecosystems as well as informing approaches for their management and conservation. Monitoring provides insight into the frequency and intensity of regional and local upwelling within the sanctuary, of current patterns that may affect larval dispersal and recruitment, and of other physical processes that may affect subsurface movement of nutrients and larvae. Knowledge of variability in physical processes in the nearshore marine environment is critical to understanding variability in associated biological communities and ecosystems, which are affected by a wide range of environmental and biological processes, including change due to human activities.

PISCO has established long-term monitoring sites in three regions along the west coast (Oregon, central California, and southern California) near each of the three collaborating universities. These regions are representative of the west coast's three major faunal provinces.

Most of UC Santa Cruz’s monitoring occurs within the MBNMS (Figure 1). The moorings are located in water depths of about 20 m. Mooring sites encompass a wide range of oceanographic conditions (e.g., varying degrees of coastal upwelling) as well as different geologic attributes (e.g., types of rocky bottom, surrounding seafloor topography).

In addition to their role in characterizing oceanographic conditions in MBNMS, the moorings are located in or adjacent to smaller Marine Protected Areas (MPAs), allowing PISCO to characterize oceanographic conditions that may contribute to differences observed in biological communities inside reserves compared to those in outside reference areas. For instance, September temperatures at the Hopkins Marine Station mooring, in the Lover’s Point State Marine Reserve, show rapid changes in stratification in response to changes in regional winds, and surface temperatures vary significantly from year to year (Figure 4).

Monitoring Trends

  • The following findings are unpublished, preliminary results, and should not be cited, copied, or referenced without the permission of the principal investigators:
    * Temperature records show strong seasonal upwelling/relaxation patterns.
    * Nearshore currents off the northern and southern regions of Monterey Bay predominantly are along-isobath.
    * Temperature and current records from sites off the northern region of the Bay reflect the presence and movement of a surface layer of warm water from the ‘upwelling shadow’.
  • Monterey Bay experiences regional upwelling occurring on periods of days to weeks, in addition to local upwelling occurring on diurnal periods.
  • Nearshore waters within the upwelling shadow are often strongly stratified.


PISCO maintains 19 long-term moorings along the Central California coast, 18 of which are within the sanctuary. One (White Rock) is just south of sanctuary waters, off of Cambria. 11 of the moorings are funded by the sanctuary. All of the moorings have temperature loggers at multiple depths: near the surface (~0.5 m) and the bottom (~17-22 m depending on the site), and usually at two more intermediate depths. A few of the moorings are in deeper water and have loggers at more depths. For example, the Weston Beach mooring has loggers at 5 depths (~0.5, 5, 11, 21, 29 m), and Terrace Point has two deep moorings, one in 60 m (Terrace Point 7) and another in 100 m (Terrace Point 8) of water, which have loggers at 6 and 7 depths, respectively. PISCO also operates a CTD (conductivity-temperature-depth) instrument on the Santa Cruz Wharf. The CTD is mounted on a wharf piling at roughly 5 m depth and transmits real-time temperature, salinity, and pressure data to the internet (

PISCO maintains a suite of long-term moorings along the Central California coast, most of which are within the sanctuary. Many of the moorings have a vertical chain of temperature loggers at multiple depths: at the surface (~0.5 m), subsurface (~5 m), mid-water column (~12 m) and the bottom (~17-22 m depending on the site). One of the moorings, Weston Beach, has loggers at 5 depths (~0.5, 5, 11, 21, 29 m) PISCO also maintains a series of ‘MPA Benthic Temperature Moorings’ (Figure 1). These moorings are made up of two temperature loggers, sampling at the seafloor in 15-min intervals. The future direction of PISCO’s Central California coast oceanographic monitoring is towards increasing the number of these MPA Benthic Temperature Moorings in order to more efficiently monitor conditions inside and outside the MPAs throughout the MBNMS.

PISCO also operates ADCPs (acoustic doppler current profilers) at 4 sites: Sandhill Bluff, Terrace Point, Hopkins, and Stillwater Cove. PISCO also operates two salinity loggers inside the sanctuary; one is mounted near the bottom of the Sandhill Bluff mooring, and the other is near the bottom of the Hopkins mooring.

Study Parameters

  • Temperature
  • Currents
  • Salinity
  • Conductivity

Figures and Images

Figure 1. PISCO oceanographic moorings in the MBNMS operated by UC Santa Cruz.

Figure 2. Schematic diagram of typical PISCO temperature monitoring mooring.

Figure 3. Bottom-mounted Acoustic Doppler Current Meters (ADCPs) record current velocities and direction at two-minute intervals in 1-meter ‘bins’ above the instrument to the sea surface.

Figure 4. September water temperature in southern Monterey Bay. (a) Ten-minute wind direction and speed from offshore NDBC buoy 46042. (b) Water temperature at all depths (surface (~0.5m), 4, 11, and 18m (2m above the bottom)) during September 2007. (c) September surface water temperatures from 2000 – 2007. Temperature data from PISCO Hopkins Marine Station Mooring (Figure 1).


  • PISCO (2011)
    Listing of publications and data users.
    76 KB PDF