The Ocean Technology Research Program supports the Sarasota Operations – Coastal Ocean Observing Laboratory (SO-COOL) which accepts, houses and redistributes physical and biological data streams designed to facilitate the study and management of our local coastal environment by researchers and agency stewards. Routine cross-continental shelf transects are “flown” with a robotic, autonomous underwater vehicle (AUV or glider), providing near real-time data on temperature, salinity, and other physical parameters via satellite communications. Mote glider assets have also been used during the response to the Deepwater Horizon spill in 2010, surveying the eastern Gulf of Mexico from SW Florida to the Keys in concert with other gliders, to provide an integrated description of physical conditions and to improve modeling predictions of spill trajectory and dispersal.

Typically, the gliders deployed by the Ocean Technology Program carry unique instrumentation developed at Mote, the Optical Phytoplankton Discriminator or OPD. The OPD detects the optical signature of harmful algal blooms of the phytoplankton Karenia brevis, (red tide) as well as other phytoplankton species, allowing advance warning of red tides originating at depth to be provided well before satellite or ship-based observations are possible. The OPD is the only instrument that is presently capable of providing real time taxonomic data while deployed robotically and autonomously. The OPD instruments have been supplied to researchers both nationally and internationally.

Additional OPD detectors are operated by Mote and located coastally in fixed deployments (buoys, pilings, or docks), providing advance warning of red tides and corroborating evidence for public reports, and Mote’s Beach Conditions Reporting Systems. The most direct commercial link of OPD has been a multi-station installation network in the vicinity of commercial shellfishing operations. Both mobile and fixed-location OPD are used to respond to red tide outbreaks, to map and delineate blooms, and provide input to agencies charged with management and public protection. All of these data are reported centrally to the SO-COOL facility. As a member of the regional association of the Gulf of Mexico Coastal Ocean Observing System (GCOOS), Mote also provides data for the GCOOS data portal, ultimately participating in the Integrated Ocean Observing System (IOOS), a partnership among federal, academic, and private parties that seek to improve responsible usage and protection of our coastal environments through access to multiple data types. The SO-COOL facility also serves as joint space used for education and outreach, with the data streams accessible for a variety of learning experiences for K-12 students and teachers.

Other work of the program develops novel instrumentation to examine oceanographic research questions such as the study of colored dissolved organic matter and its transport from the estuaries to the deep ocean. The transport of carbon-containing material is of importance to climate research, studies of oceanic heat flux and budgets, and for the investigation of critical biological processes in the coastal environment such as the support of fisheries populations. Additional projects have developed new designs of mobile toxin detection and collection instruments and a Bycatch-friendly Electronic Fishing Buoy.

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