At least every few weeks since the early 1960s, scientists have set out from Newport, Oregon, to sample ocean conditions for what has become one of the most consistent, longest-lived, and scientifically valuable ocean monitoring programs on the West Coast of North America.
The scientists travel due west along what is known as the Newport Hydrographic Line, gauging temperatures, salinity and many other factors at regular intervals along the way.
This week NOAA Fisheries' Northwest Fisheries Science Center and Oregon State University received a major international award for jointly maintaining the Newport Line for more than 50 years, yielding new scientific insight into climate patterns such as El Nino and La Nina, salmon returns, ocean currents and much more.
Research based on data from the Newport Line has led to more than 120 scientific publications, the North Pacific Marine Science Organization (called PICES) noted in the presentation of its PICES Ocean Monitoring Service Award (POMA) at its annual meeting in Vladivostok, Russia, on Monday.
The award "recognizes organizations, groups and outstanding individuals that have contributed significantly to the advancement of marine science in the North Pacific through long-term ocean monitoring and data management," PICES said.
The international organization specifically cited the late Bill Peterson, a well-known oceanographer at the NWFSC's Newport Research Station who died in August, for his dedication to maintaining the Newport Line in recent decades. The nomination was supported by international organizations including the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission of the United National Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization.
"This is a tremendous honor for NOAA Fisheries, but most importantly a great recognition of Bill's devotion to the Newport Line and all the critical science that it has produced through the decades," said Kevin Werner, Director of the NWFSC. "Without the Newport Line, and without Bill's support, we would not know nearly as much about the ocean off the Pacific Northwest – how it changes, how it works and what that means for those of us who live here."
Sampling along the Newport Line was instrumental in tracking and helping scientists understand unusually warm ocean conditions in recent years that led to unprecedented changes in marine species off the Pacific Northwest. By tracking conditions and the type of zooplankton found along the line, Peterson and other researchers have also learned how to better estimate salmon returns to the Columbia River and other parts of the Northwest.
The Newport Line is one of the few such longstanding ocean monitoring programs on the West Coast, said Hal Batchelder, a former OSU professor and now Deputy Executive Secretary of PICES. "It's remarkable how long it has continued and how many scientists have benefited from its data," he said.
The roughly 200 people at the PICES annual meeting in Russia bowed their heads in silence on Monday in memory of Peterson and his contributions to the Newport Line.