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UCSB scientists track environmental influences on giant kelp with help from satellite data
Date:5/17/2011

(Santa Barbara, Calif.) Scientists at UC Santa Barbara have developed new methods for studying how environmental factors and climate affect giant kelp forest ecosystems at unprecedented spatial and temporal scales.

The scientists merged data collected underwater by UCSB divers with satellite images of giant kelp canopies taken by the Landsat 5 Thematic Mapper. The findings are published in the feature article of the May 16 issue of Marine Ecology Progress Series.

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.

David Siegel, co-author, professor of geography and co-director of UCSB's Earth Research Institute, noted that having 25 years of imagery from the same satellite is unprecedented. "I've been heavily involved in the satellite game, and a satellite mission that goes on for more than 10 years is rare. One that continues for more than 25 years is a miracle," said Siegel. Landsat 5 was originally planned to be in use for only three years.

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 also provides an important source of food for many terrestrial and deep-sea species, as kelp that is ripped from the seafloor commonly washes up on beaches or is transported offshore into deeper water.

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. Mean
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Contact: Gail Gallessich
gail.g@ia.ucsb.edu
805-893-7220
University of California - Santa Barbara
Source:Eurekalert  

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UCSB scientists track environmental influences on giant kelp with help from satellite data 
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