Science & Research

Aquarius Aquanauts Explore Phenomenon of Florida Keys Cold Water

Earlier in summer 2003 an unusually intense and persistent subtropical high-pressure ridge affected weather in south Florida. As a result, winds affected ocean currents and cold deep water was moved closer to the surface off the east coast of Florida.

For example, in July 2002 ocean temperatures dropped into the 60s and 70s off Daytona Beach, considerably below normal. This phenomenon, where cold deep ocean water is brought to the surface, is called “upwelling.” The latest mission of the Aquarius Undersea Laboratory gets underway today with a six person crew studying the effects of a special type of upwelling that frequently brings cold deep water onto coral reefs in the Florida Keys. Owned by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and operated by UNCW, Aquarius is a unique national asset – it is the only undersea research platform of its kind in the world. It rests 63 feet underwater and 3.5 miles offshore at Conch Reef in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary. Aquarius "aquanauts" live and work on the seafloor for extended periods using a special diving technique called saturation diving. The team is using Aquarius to investigate how cold, upwelled water interacts with the topography of the reef (topography is the technical term for roughness) and how the cold water (which contains high concentrations of nitrogen and phosphorous) affects important members of the reef community, particularly benthic macroalgae, or seaweeds. The team of aquanaut scientists will map topographic features of the reef in detail and they will sample the distribution and tissue chemistry of seaweeds in a variety of reef habitats. Using a custom designed network of oceanographic sensors, including more than 100 individually placed temperature sensors, the scientists will monitor the upwelling events on the reef in unprecedented detail. During each Aquarius mission, anyone with Internet access can watch live web cameras, read expedition journals from the aquanauts, view project summaries and pictures, and much more at the NURC/UNCW Aquarius website.


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