Sea Surface Temperature Imagery Elucidates Spatiotemporal Nutrient Patterns for Offshore Kelp Aquaculture Siting in the Southern California Bight
Offshore aquaculture of giant kelp (Macrocystis pyrifera) has been proposed by the US Department of Energy for large scale biofuel production along the west coast of California. The Southern Californian Bight provides an ideal area for offshore kelp aquaculture as the upwelling and advection of cool, nutrient-rich waters supports the growth of vast native giant kelp populations. However, concentrations of nutrients vary greatly across space, can be limiting for kelp growth over seasonal to interannual time scales, and inputs of nutrients to surface waters may be subject to local circulation processes. Therefore, it is important to understand both the spatiotemporal variability of seawater nitrate concentrations and the appropriate scale of observation in order for offshore kelp aquaculture to be successful. Here, we use a combination of satellite sea surface temperature imagery, in situ measurements, and modeling to determine seawater nitrate fields across multiple spatial and temporal scales. We then combine this information with known giant kelp physiological traits to develop a kelp stress index (KSI) for the optimal siting of offshore kelp aquaculture over seasonal to decadal scales. Temperature to nitrate relationships were determined from in situ measurements using generalized additive models and validated with buoy data. Summer and winter relationships were significantly different, and satellite-derived products compared well to buoy validations. Surface nitrate patterns, as derived from satellite temperature products, reveal the spatial variability in nitrate concentrations, and indicate areas that that may cause nutrient stress seasonally and during the negative phase of the North Pacific Gyre Oscillation. As the spatial scale of the surface nitrate product decreased, the negative bias increased and fine scale spatial variability was lost. Similarly, the averaging of daily nitrate concentration determinations over longer time scales increased the negative bias. We found that daily, 1 km spatial resolution nitrate products were most sufficient for identifying localized upwelling and areas of consistently high surface nitrate concentrations, and that areas in the northern and western-most portions of the Southern California Bight are the most suitable for sustained offshore kelp aquaculture.