Measuring Impacts: Monitoring The Influence Of Climate Change At Cabrillo National Monument

Cabrillo National Monument (CABR) is one of the best-protected intertidal areas in Southern California and acts as a nursery for the multitude of marine invertebrates and fishes that call the intertidal zone home. A significant portion of the CABR coastline has been restricted from public access for research and preservation purposes since 1996 and due to its preservation, holds the largest diversity of invertebrates on the southern coast, including the rare green abalone. Additionally, the CABR coast is considered potential mainland critical habitat by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA) for the recently federally listed endangered black abalone (Haliotis cracherodii).

CABR is concerned about the effects that climate change will have on its marine seascape, a place visited by a quarter of a million visitors each year and a crown jewel of the greater San Diego area. Many marine organisms will be threatened by the warming and acidification of seawater globally as more carbon dioxide makes its way into the atmosphere and by extension, the surface ocean. In order to effectively manage its rocky intertidal habitat and prepare for anticipated ecosystem changes, CABR is working to better understand potential impacts by directly measuring water quality parameters that will be affected most in the years to come.

CABR began continuously monitoring the temperature, pH, dissolved oxygen, and salinity of the intertidal zone in May, 2016 following the operating procedure developed on the outer coast of Olympic National Park. This protocol allows park scientists to better understand the natural dynamics of intertidal chemistry and detect any deviations outside of the current natural range. The oceanographic sensors used for monitoring (depicted) are collocated with Inventory and Monitoring Program rocky intertidal monitoring sites established in 1990. This side by side comparison of water quality and biological data promotes a greater holistic understand of climate change and its downstream effects in the intertidal zone. This approach is preserved regionally through local agency and academic partnerships and across NPS networks in the Pacific West Region.

Photo of instrument for ph monitoring
Installation of SeaFET pH logger in the intertidal zone of Cabrillo National Monument. Also featured to the right is the housing for intertidal temperature monitoring. These instruments measure both exposed (shown) and inundated seawater pH and temperature. Photo by Jonathan Jones
Instruments to help monitor climate change
Installation of sea level pressure transducer (left), conductivity sensor (middle), and dissolved oxygen sensor (right) during low tide. Together, these instruments provide additional climate change data that complement the ocean acidification monitoring program. Photo by Jonathan Jones

CABR is one of several park units along the west coast of North America that have adopted this methodology to measure climate change in the intertidal zone. Park scientists have previously shared biological data up and down the coast allowing them to detect regional and coast-wide changes in organism distribution and abundance. Similarly, the addition of these oceanographic sensors will help to capture the environmental conditions that affect organism survivorship both at the network and regional level. By working together with other parks and sharing strategies to understand anticipated and realized changes, CABR is responding to the call to action to support landscape level conservation of life between the tides.

Jonathan Jones, Keith Lombardo, Alexandria Warneke

Last revised 09-Nov-16