Western Channel Observatory

NERC National Capability of the Plymouth Marine Laboratory and Marine Biological Association


Progress in Oceanography Special Issue

The Western Channel Observatory has celebrated the 25th anniversary of the re-establishment of L4 with the publication of a special issue in Progress in Oceanography (Volume 137, Part B, Pages 335-570). The 17 cross-cutting scientific research papers, from 25 UK and international institutes, provide new insights into seabed and water column processes as well as their interactions, demonstrating a key strength of the WCO.

WCO has provided observations from the western English Channel since 1903. Its exceptional capability to gather near real-time data for monitoring the health of our oceans and measuring changes, combined with scientific analysis and expertise, helps to further our understanding of global change.

A selection of highlights from the special issue:

  • Harmful algal blooms (HABS) are a key feature of western English Channel productivity and in severe cases can impact important commercial species. The occurrence of some HABs can be statistically related to rainfall and river discharge, potentially allowing future events to be predicted, information that could inform management and industry (Barnes et al).
  • Sediment-dwelling organisms drive the regeneration of nutrients by grazing sunken phytoplankton blooms. Insight into the key seabed infauna involved enhanced understanding of the biogeochemical cycling of nutrients in coastal seas (Zhang et al & Tait et al).
  • Clear seasonal cycles were found for microbial plankton, including bacteria. On-going time series observations of plankton continue to be important for gauging the rate of global climate change, measuring the response of plankton to that change as well as any consequences that may have for the marine environment as a whole (Tarran and Bruun).
  • Later and longer lasting blooms of micro-phytoplankton during the summer could potentially have a positive feedback on climate change by enhancing carbon draw-down from the atmosphere to the coastal zone (Barnes et al).
  • The vertical distribution of plankton changes across tidal cycles as tidal currents move water from location to location. By using holographic cameras to measure these changes in plankton abundance and distribution we can better understand carbon cycling (Cross et al).
  • Seasonality in seawater temperature and phytoplankton biomass drive different aspects of the seasonal cycle of the seabed ecosystem process of bioturbation (Queirós et al).
  • A decrease in the nutritional value of phytoplankton (such as diatoms) reduces predation from microzooplankton, allowing an algal bloom to form. These results support the idea that reduced cell nutrient content is advantageous for primary producers but reduces the carbon transfer to higher trophic levels (Polimene et al).
  • The impact of freshwater run-off upon sediment transport and current speeds has been quantified and demonstrated to be related to the size of the individual river catchments. These results allow the terrestrial influence on the WCO stations to be contextualised and provide information for better estuarine management (Uncles et al).

The full papers can be read on the journal's website http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/journal/00796611/137/part/PB

Download the special issue postcard

About Us

The WCO is a partnership between the Plymouth Marine Laboratory and the Marine Biological Association.

How are we funded?

The core work of the WCO is funded as part of the UK Natural Environment Research Council's National Capability.

Contact Information

For more details about the WCO please contact:

Dr Tim Smyth
Western Channel Observatory
Plymouth Marine Laboratory
Prospect Place
email: tjsm@pml.ac.uk