The Continuous Plankton Recorder Survey of the North Pacific

The Continuous Plankton Recorder (CPR) was first deployed in the north Pacific in summer 1997 as a feasibility study carried out by the Sir Alister Hardy Foundation for Ocean Science (SAHFOS). CPRs had been deployed for over 70 years in the north Atlantic from Ships-of-Opportunity, currently managed by SAHFOS, providing a wealth of time series data (Reid et al., 2003). In contrast, the open ocean areas of the north Pacific have been historically poorly sampled. Presentations were made at the 1998 annual North Pacific Marine Science Organisation (PICES) meeting and from this followed a recommendation that the CPR be used to address the lack of open ocean plankton data. The cost-effectiveness of ship-of-opportunity sampling, the tried-and-tested nature of the CPR and the growing recognition that zooplankton respond rapidly to climate change and also provide the link between changes in the atmosphere and important upper trophic level populations all provided the impetus for support for CPR sampling.

The first proposal was funded by the North Pacific Marine Research program to collect plankton samples in 2000 and 2001 and a third year, supported by the North Pacific Research Board (NPRB), followed on from this. Funding was also obtained in 2002 from the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill Trustee Council (EVOS) for the transect in the Gulf of Alaska and since then the NPRB has supported the ~6,500km transect running east-west across the north Pacific and the EVOS TC has supported the ~2,500 km north-south Gulf of Alaska transect. From 2000 to 2003 the north-south transect ran from Prince William Sound to California but was modified in 2004, when that ship was withdrawn, to a new transect from 2004 between Cook Inlet and Puget Sound. This transect is now in its 4th year of sampling.

Sampling on the east-west transect was enhanced in 2002 through collaborations with the Point Reyes Bird Observatory Conservation Science (Dr Bill Sydeman) and the Canadian Wildlife Service (Dr Ken Morgan) to make simultaneous observations of marine bird and mammal distributions. In 2004 a CTD was fitted to the CPR to additionally sample the physical environment (temperature, salinity and chlorophyll a as fluorescence).

In 2003 collaborative agreements were set up with the Prince William Sound Science Centre in Valdez and Fisheries and Oceans, Canada (the Institute of Ocean Sciences in Sidney, BC) to service and unload the CPRs locally. Initial sample processing is now carried out at IOS and a subset of samples are analysed within a few weeks of the ship’s return so that some data can be available quickly, to give an idea of current conditions. Full, quality controlled data are available within a year of collection.
Although long term funding has not been secured the program is now in its 8th year of sampling and many studies have resulted from the data (see below). The program is overseen by the PICES CPR Advisory Panel and interest and enthusiasm to continue and extend the program is ongoing. The initial support from PICES and the NPMR program has therefore firmly set the foundations of a large scale monitoring program for the north Pacific.

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