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Systematic, long-term observations are essential for evaluating natural variability of Earth’s climate and ecosystems and their responses to anthropogenic disturbances. Since October 1988, the Hawaii Ocean Time-series (HOT) program has investigated temporal dynamics in biology, physics, and chemistry at Stn. ALOHA (22°45' N, 158°W), a deep ocean field site in the oligotrophic North Pacific Subtropical Gyre (NPSG). HOT conducts near monthly ship-based sampling and makes continuous observations from moored instruments to document and study NPSG climate and ecosystem variability over semi-diurnal to decadal time scales. HOT was founded to understand the processes controlling the time-varying fluxes of carbon and associated biogenic elements in the ocean and to document changes in the physical structure of the water column. To achieve these broad objectives, the program has several specific goals:
Over the past 24+ years, time-series research at Station ALOHA has provided an unprecedented view of temporal variability in NPSG climate and ecosystem processes. Foremost among HOT accomplishments are an increased understanding of the sensitivity of bioelemental cycling to large scale ocean-climate interactions, improved quantification of reservoirs and time varying fluxes of carbon, identification of the importance of the hydrological cycle and its influence on upper ocean biogeochemistry, and the creation of long-term data sets from which the oceanic response to anthropogenic perturbation of elemental cycles may be gauged.
A defining characteristic of the NPSG is the perennially oligotrophic nature of the upper ocean waters. This biogeochemically reactive layer of the ocean is where air-sea exchange of climate reactive gases occurs, solar radiation fuels rapid biological transformation of nutrient elements, and diverse assemblages of planktonic organisms comprise the majority of living biomass and sustain productivity. The prevailing Ekman convergence and weak seasonality in surface light flux, combined with relatively mild subtropical weather and persistent stratification, result in a nutrient depleted upper ocean habitat. The resulting dearth of bioessential nutrients limits plankton standing stocks and maintains a deep (175 m) euphotic zone. Despite the oligotrophic state of the NPSG, estimates of net organic matter production at Sta. ALOHA are estimated to range ~1.4 and 4.2 mol C m2 yr1. Such respectable rates of productivity have highlighted the need to identify processes supplying growth limiting nutrients to the upper ocean. Over the lifetime of HOT numerous ancillary science projects have leveraged HOT science and infrastructure to examine possible sources of nutrients supporting plankton productivity. Both physical (mixing, upwelling) and biotic (N2 fixation, vertical migration) processes supply nutrients to the upper ocean in this region, and HOT has been instrumental in demonstrating that these processes are sensitive to variability in ocean climate.
Station ALOHA - site selection and infrastructure
Station ALOHA is a deep water (~4800 m) location approximately 100 km north of the Hawaiian Island of Oahu. Thus, the region is far enough from land to be free of coastal ocean dynamics and terrestrial inputs, but close enough to a major port (Honolulu) to make relatively short duration (<5 d) near-monthly cruises logistically and financially feasible. Sampling at this site occurs within a 10 km radius around the center of the station. On each HOT cruise, we begin each cruise with a stop at a coastal station south of the island of Oahu, approximately 10 km off Kahe Point (21' 20.6'N, 158' 16.4'W) in 1500 m of water. Station Kahe (termed Station 1 in our database) is used to test equipment and train new personnel before departing for Station ALOHA. Since August 2004, Station ALOHA has also been home to a surface mooring outfitted for meteorological and upper ocean measurements; this mooring, named WHOTS (also termed Station 50), is a collaborative project between Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution and HOT. WHOTS provides long-term, high-quality air-sea fluxes as a coordinated part of HOT, contributing to the program’s goals of observing heat, fresh water and chemical fluxes. In 2011, the ALOHA Cabled Observatory (ACO) became operational. This instrumented fiber optic cabled observatory provides power and communications to the seabed (4728 m). The ACO currently configured with an array of thermistors, current meters, conductivity sensors, 2 hydrophones, and a video camera.
HOT Sampling Strategy
HOT relies on the UNOLS research vessel Kilo Moana operated by the University of Hawaii for most of our near-monthly sampling expeditions. The exact timing of HOT cruises is dictated by the vessel schedule, but to date, our sampling record is not heavily aliased by month, season, or year. When at Station ALOHA, HOT relies on a variety of sampling strategies to capture the dynamic range of time-variable physical and biogeochemical dynamics inherent to the NPSG ecosystem, including high resolution conductivity-temperature-depth (CTD) profiles; biogeochemical analyses of discrete water samples; in situ vertically profiling bio-optical instrumentation; surface tethered, free-drifting arrays for determinations of primary production and particle fluxes; bottom-moored, deep ocean (2800 m, 4000 m) sediment traps; and oblique plankton net tows. The suite of core measurements conducted by HOT has remained largely unchanged over the program’s lifetime. On each HOT cruise, samples are collected from the surface ocean to near the sea bed (~4800 m), with the most intensive sampling occurring in the upper 1000 m (typically 13-15 CTD hydrocasts to 1000 m and 2 casts to ~4800 m). HOT utilizes a “burst” vertical profiling strategy where physical and biogeochemical properties are measured at 3-h intervals over a 36-h period, covering 3 semidiurnal tidal cycles and 1 inertial period (~31 h). This approach captures energetic high-frequency variability in ocean dynamics due to internal tides around Sta. ALOHA.
Scientific Background and Findings
Central to the mission of the HOT program is continued quantification of ocean carbon inventories and fluxes, with a focus on describing changes in the sizes of these pools and fluxes over time. HOT routinely quantifies the vertical distributions of the major components of the ocean carbon cycle: dissolved inorganic carbon (DIC), pH, total alkalinity, dissolved organic carbon (DOC), and particulate carbon (PC). The HOT dataset constitutes one the longest running records from which to gauge the oceanic response to continued anthropogenic changes to the global carbon cycle. The 24+ year record of ocean carbon measurements at Station ALOHA document that the partial pressure of CO2 (pCO2) in the mixed layer is increasing at a rate (1.92 ± 0.13 microatm yr-1), slightly greater than the trend observed in the atmosphere (1.71 ± 0.03 microatm yr1). Moreover, mixed layer concentrations of salinity-normalized DIC are increasing at 1.03 ± 0.07 micromol kg1 yr1 (Winn et al., 1998; Dore et al., 2009). These long-term changes in upper ocean carbon inventories have been accompanied by progressive decreases in seawater pH (-0.0018 ± 0.0001 yr1) and declines in aragonite and calcite saturation states (Dore et al., 2009). Although the penetration of anthropogenic CO2 is evidenced by long-term decreases in seawater pH throughout the upper 600 m, the rate of acidification at Sta. ALOHA varies with depth. For example, in the upper mesopelagic waters (~160-310 m) pH is decreasing at nearly twice the rate observed in the surface waters (Dore et al., 2009). Such depth-dependent differences in acidification derive from a combination of regional differences in the time-varying climate signatures imprinted on the ventilation history of the waters, mixing, and changes in biological activity associated with different water masses.
Superimposed on these progressive long-term trends in the seawater carbonate system are seasonal- to decadal-scale variations in climate and biogeochemical dynamics that ultimately influence CO2 inventories, fluxes, and trends. Changes in temperature, evaporation-precipitation, and mixing all impart complex, time-varying signatures on the ocean carbon cycle. For example, interactions among low-frequency climate oscillations such as those linked to the El-Niño Southern Oscillation (ENSO), Pacific Decadal Oscillation (PDO), and North Pacific Gyre Oscillation (NPGO) influence the frequency, intensity, and tracks of winter storms in the NPSG (Lukas, 2001), which in turn modifies physical forcing (wind and air-sea heat/water fluxes) and upper ocean response (stratification, currents and mixing). Such dynamics have important, often non-linear, influences on ocean carbon uptake and biogeochemistry.
Time-series measurements at HOT have also highlighted complex relationships between ecosystem dynamics and climate-driven physical forcing. Historically, the abundances and distributions of the resident plankton community of the NPSG were thought to be relatively stable in both space and time. However, HOT program measurements have identified remarkable temporal (and spatial) heterogeneity in biogeochemical processes and planktonic community structure over seasonal to interannual time scales. In many cases, climate-forced fluctuations in plankton population dynamics resonate from the base of the picoplankton food web to higher trophic levels (Karl, 1999; Karl et al., 2001; Sheridan and Landry, 2004; Corno et al., 2007; Bidigare et al., 2009). However, we currently lack a complete mechanistic understanding of the processes underlying variability in NPSG biogeochemistry.
With continued lengthening of the time series record, HOT measurements have become increasingly useful for identifying low-frequency, interannual- to decadal-scale signals in ocean climate and biogeochemistry. Upper ocean physical dynamics, nutrient availability, plankton productivity, biomass and community structure, and material export at Sta. ALOHA have all been shown to be sensitive to regional- to basin- scale climate oscillations of the Pacific (Karl et al., 1995; Karl, 1999; Dore et al., 2002; Corno et al., 2007; Bidigare et al., 2009). One of the most notable examples coincided with major phase shifts in the ENSO, PDO, and NPGO indices in 1997-1998. Fluctuations in mixing and hydrological forcing accompanying these transitions had important consequences for ocean biogeochemistry and plankton ecology, including changing upper ocean nutrients, concentrations of DIC, and ultimately influencing organic matter export (Dore et al., 2003; Corno et al., 2007; Bidigare et al., 2009). Moreover, these dynamics preceded a shift in plankton community composition, as reflected through nearly 40% increases in concentrations of 19-butanoyoxyfucoxanthin (19-but), 19-hexoyloxyfucoxanthin (19-hex), and fucoxanthin pigment biomarkers used as proxies for pelagophytes, prymnesiophytes, and diatoms, respectively (Bidigare et al., 2009). Similarly, mesozooplankton biomass increased nearly 50% during this period, suggesting sensitivity of trophodynamic coupling to interannual to subdecadal scale variations in ocean climate.
HOT also provides some of the only decadal-scale measurements of in situ primary production necessary for assessing seasonal to secular scale change. Since 1988, depth integrated (0-125 m) inventories of both chlorophyll a and 14C-based estimates of primary production at Sta. ALOHA and BATS have increased significantly (Corno et al., 2007; Saba et al., 2010). However, these long-term trends are punctuated by considerable interannual variability, much of which occurs in the mid- to lower regions of the euphotic zone (>45 m depth), below depths of detection by Earth-orbiting satellites. The emerging data emphasize the value of in situ measurements for validating remote and autonomous detection of plankton biomass and productivity and demonstrate that detection of potential secular-scale changes in productivity against the backdrop of significant interannual and decadal fluctuations demands a sustained sampling effort.
Careful long-term measurements at Stn. ALOHA also highlight a well-resolved, though relatively weak, seasonal climatology in upper ocean primary productivity. Measurements of 14C-primary production document a ~3-fold increase during the summer months (Karl et al., 2012) that coincides with increases in plankton biomass (Landry et al., 2001; Sheridan and Landry, 2004). Moreover, phytoplankton blooms, often large enough to be detected by ocean color satellites, are a recurrent summertime feature of these waters (White et al., 2007; Dore et al., 2008; Fong et al., 2008). Analyses of ~13-years (1992-2004) of particulate C, N, P, and biogenic Si fluxes collected from bottom-moored deep-ocean (2800 m and 4000 m) sediment traps provide clues to processes underlying these seasonal changes. Unlike the gradual summertime increase in sinking particle flux observed in the upper ocean (150 m) traps, the deep sea particle flux record depicts a sharply defined summer maximum that accounts for ~20% of the annual POC flux to the deep sea, and appears driven by rapidly sinking diatom biomass (Karl et al., 2012). Analyses of the 15N isotopic signatures associated with sinking particles at Sta. ALOHA, together with genetic analyses of N2 fixing microorganisms, implicates upper ocean N2 fixation as a major control on the magnitude and efficiency of the biological carbon pump in this ecosystem (Dore et al., 2002; Church et al., 2009; Karl et al., 2012).
Science results from HOT continue to raise new, important questions about linkages between ocean climate and biogeochemistry that remain at the core of contemporary oceanography. Answers have begun to emerge from the existing suite of core program measurements; however, sustained sampling is needed to improve our understanding of contemporary ecosystem behavior and our ability to make informed projections of future changes to this ecosystem. HOT continues to focus on providing answers to some of the questions below:
©2008 Biological and Chemical Oceanography Data Management Office.
Funded by the U.S. National Science Foundation