What’s tall, covered with solar panels and antennas and standing in the middle of Tampa Bay? Boaters might (or might not) be asking each other that very question this spring as they pass by the ocean acidification monitoring array that was installed this past winter in Tampa Bay, Florida. The Tampa Bay Land/Ocean Biogeochemical Observatory (LOBO to its friends) is a water quality monitoring tool that tracks ocean acidification, and it’s the outcome of a huge collaboration: The Tampa Bay Estuary Program (TBEP), Tampa Bay Environmental Restoration Fund, EPA provided funding, U.S. Geological Survey and the University of South Florida have provided other support to make it come together after three years. This new equipment is going to provide a point of view on ocean acidification in Tampa Bay like we’ve never had before.
Built on an existing meteorological station, LOBO represents an exciting next step in the long-term recovery of Tampa Bay. In the 1970s-early 1980s, Bay water quality was poor, the Bay lost a great deal of seagrass beds and its water pH was lower than it is today. But over the last 30 years, improved management and restoration dramatically improved the Bay’s water quality, and the seagrass population rebounded. Recent data from TBEP shows that Bay pH has increased as healthy seagrass beds have come back. LOBO is going to take this work another step by providing a time-series of measurements that can be compared with other Bay-wide changes.
Since December, LOBO has been recording ocean chemistry data in tandem with tidal and weather data. And what a dataset it is! In just three months, LOBO has shown that daily tidal cycles control a good deal of the ocean’s carbon dioxide variability in the Bay. And it has shown that temperature controls a good deal of the water’s pH and variation over weekly to monthly time scales. Scientists can now use these high-resolution, continuous datasets to subtract out the role of short-term processes like weather and ocean circulation and study the longer term climatic-scale changes that are also buried in the Bay acidity signal. Not only will LOBO offer insight on the day-to-day inner workings of Tampa Bay, but every year that it runs, it also provides even more information about the effects of Tampa Bay’s multi-decadal restoration. We’re excited to see what new insights this Bay-wide collaboration will offer as time goes on!