A couple of weeks ago I took my car into the auto repair shop to be serviced. Aside from the routine servicing, it needed new brake rotors and pads, and new tires – all things that wear out serving their functional purpose. When I was paying the bill, the owner Mike and I were discussing these details, and I asked if he knew what happened to all of the pieces of rotors, pads, and tires that wear away onto the streets and freeways. He indicated that he hadn’t really thought about it. A lot of the material that wears off of our cars forms the dust along roadways – some is blown away, and when it rains a good portion of it is washed into the storm drains that lead to streams and rivers that eventually (but not too eventually around LA) discharge into the ocean. Some of the metals in the brake materials and organic material from our tires can be toxic to the marine organisms that encounter ocean water containing runoff from the urban landscape.
That got me thinking about writing this blog. The ocean lives and breathes on a daily basis just like every other organism and ecosystem on earth. It is affected by weather, climate, daily oscillations of tides caused by the sun and moon, and in Southern California by the large population of more than 21 million people living near the coast between Santa Barbara and San Diego. This is one of the largest and most intensive population centers in North America where water is consumed and discharged, fuels are burned, and carbon dioxide and other gases are produced to support we humans. We work, play, eat, sleep, poop, make haste and wastes all within a very narrow area along the coast. We benefit from the ocean and we in turn affect the ocean on a daily basis.
We have been studying the “urban ocean” for about 25 years with the support of many agencies from various levels of government, which we will discuss in future posts. However, the USC Sea Grant Program has facilitated many of our efforts and deserves significant credit for supporting this research before it was popular with the larger national agencies. Our laboratory at the University of Southern California is also part of an ocean observing system for southern California (SCCOOS). As a result we are observing the ocean on a daily basis using satellite sensors, radars that measure surface currents, buoys that monitor the minute-by-minute changes in the ocean at specific sites, underwater robotic vehicles that map out the changes that occur under the surface, and with all that we still grab samples with buckets. A lot of this data shows up in technical documents and scientific papers that may bore many of you. So our intent this blog is to translate these observations into a diary of the life of the “urban” ocean in our backyard, providing you with a perspective on how we are interacting with our local environment
The staff and students in my lab all love to spend time and play in and on the ocean. Our desire is to convey to you our excitement and wonder of how the ocean functions, and in the process also express some concerns, ideas and realities of how we affect and are affected by the dynamic ocean.