Journey to the centre of the ocean: my account of Ocean Station Papa
As an oceanography graduate student at UBC, I have the immense opportunity to actually do “real” oceanography (i.e. riding boats) through our joint partnership with the Institute of Ocean Sciences hailing from Sydney BC. During the month of February I had such an opportunity and spent three consecutive weeks on a research cruise to the illustrious Sub-Arctic Northeast Pacific Ocean, destination: Station Papa. Ocean Station Papa, or OSP (50°N, 145°W), is one of many long-term time series stations that have been systematically studied for more than 50 years. Others include BATS (Bermuda Atlantic Time Series), HOTS (Hawaii Ocean Time Series), SEATS (South East Asian Time Series), and others (all of which are surely to have acronyms of their own). OSP is an interesting example of an ocean time series, as it started as a weather station originally manned by the US coast guard in 1949. The following year, Canadian coast guard ships occupied the site, taking daily measurements of a variety of atmospheric and oceanographic parameters for the next 20 years. In 1981, the weather ships were recalled and instead the Institute of Ocean Sciences issued 3-6 research cruises a year to continue the time series, although the number of yearly cruises has lessened to 2-4 recently due to the lack of funding for the project.
What is truly unique about any of these long-term time series is the ability to identify patterns in the local atmosphere and ocean over seasonal, multi-year and decadal time scales as they relate to global climatic cycles (ex. seasonal algal growth, fish stocks, El Nino events, rising greenhouse gases, ocean acidification, and many many others). Researchers who attempt to model past and present global climate regimes require such data in order to avoid making ambiguous assumptions. Furthermore, models for predicting the future of our climate as a result of our “natural carbon dioxide experiment”, as a former professor of mine often emphasized, are only possible through such time series.