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people collecting water samples from the deck of a ship
HOT team members deploying water sampling equipment. (Credit: Tara Clemente)

The Hawaiʻi Ocean Time-series (HOT) program based at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa has been awarded $9 million in new funding from the National Science Foundation to continue for another five years. Even more auspicious, this month marks the 30th anniversary of the endeavor that has led to so many discoveries in marine ecology and ocean and climate sciences.

The HOT program has provided consistent, long-term observations of physical, biological and chemical properties of the open ocean in the North Pacific Subtropical Gyre.

HOT was established in 1988 to improve scientific understanding of the structure, dynamics and controls of major biogeochemical cycles in the sea, especially the carbon cycle. In that year, both David Karl and Roger Lukas, who were professors of oceanography in UH’s newly created School of Ocean and Earth Science and Technology (SOEST), established a deep ocean observation station dubbed ALOHA (A Long-term Oligotrophic Habitat Assessment) 60 miles north of Oʻahu as the benchmark site for the HOT program.

Looking back on 30 years of exploration

For 30 years a large and diverse team of researchers has documented variability of ocean water masses and circulation; observed habitat variability; determined relationships between microbial community structure and function, including nutrient dynamics and carbon sequestration; and measured carbon dioxide in the upper ocean and changes to the capacity of the ocean to absorb it.

people collecting water samples from the deck of a shit
HOT team members recover a water sampler. (Credit: Mar Nieto-Cid)

“In looking back at the past 30 years, there is plenty to be proud of and to celebrate,” said Karl.

Station ALOHA is one of the best-sampled places in the world’s oceans with a decades-long record of how the ocean responds to climate change. In addition to the monthly ship-based observations, HOT program scientists utilize real-time satellite-based remote observations, as well as unattended mooring measurements, autonomous instrumented gliders and floats, and a cabled seafloor observatory. They have provided invaluable documentation on progressive ocean acidification, and changes to seawater temperatures and Hawaiʻi’s marine ecosystem.

The next chapter of the HOT program

During the five-year duration of the grant, the HOT program will transition to new leadership. Angelicque White, a newly hired oceanography associate professor, and James Potemra, SOEST researcher, will co-lead this next chapter.

“I am excited to be a part of a program that our society has thankfully supported for 30 years—the long-term monitoring of our planet,” said White, who has conducted research at Station ALOHA for years. “Change is the only constant. Through this program, we’ve been watching the ocean carefully for decades and we’re starting to see strong, meaningful and statistically significant changes in response to human activities. It’s more important than ever that we continue this time-series.”

Added Potemra, “Station ALOHA is unique in the world not only because of the HOT program, but it is also where SOEST maintains the deepest real-time observatory, the Aloha Cabled Observatory, and a high-quality surface mooring. The continuation of HOT is a key piece to keep all these projects going hopefully well into the future.”

The HOT program receives primary funding from the U.S. National Science Foundation in partnership with the Simons Foundation, Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation and the State of Hawaiʻi.

UH News video: Ocean climate change research sets benchmark

UH has completed 300 research cruises to Station ALOHA, about 60 miles north of Oʻahu, one of the best-sampled places in the world’s oceans with a decades-long record of how the ocean responds to climate change.

—By Marcie Grabowski

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