Environmental Monitors on Lobster Traps (eMOLT)
The eMOLT project is a non-profit collaboration of industry, science, and academics devoted to monitoring of the physical environment of the Gulf of Maine and the Southern New England shelf. In a series of phases funded by the Northeast Consortium beginning in 2001, we developed low-cost strategies to measure bottom temperature, salinity, and current velocity with the help of nearly 100 lobstermen dispersed along the entire New England coast. We hope to extend our existing multi-year time series (as well as our monitoring capabilities) and contribute to NOAA's Integrated Ocean Observing Systems (IOOS).
The eMOLT partnership has included all the major lobstermen associations in New England (Maine, Massachusetts, Downeast, and Atlantic Offshore), NOAA's Northeast Fisheries Science Center, the Gulf of Maine Lobster Foundation, and the Marine Science Department at the Southern Maine Community College (SMCC). Having created a network of participating fishermen, our primary goal is to supply these individuals with the latest in low-cost instrumentation sufficient for maintaining continuous time series of physical variables at fixed locations and depths. Our database now (2015) consist of 6 million hourly records of temperature, 80 thousand hourly records of salinity, and 260 thousand satellite drifter fixes. While our mission is primarily motivated by lobster science and the need to document background conditions, we make our database accessible to the general public in the form of web served products and raw data.
In our quest to minimize instrumentation cost, we have partnered with schools (such our original partner Southern Maine Community College's Marine Science Department) and local engineers in the private sector. This has lead to development of devices of interest to the oceanographic community in general. The first is a GPS drifter at nearly a third the cost of commercial units that implements the SENS technology with the GLOBALSTAR low-orbiting satellite system. These units have already logged more than a million kilometers of ocean and are being used by dozens of other universities and research groups. Others include a real-time bottom temperature sensor (attached to lobster traps) that wirelessly transmits data to a shipboard system as it is hauled on deck and a low-cost bottom-current meter that implements new inclinometer technology. While the drifters and the tilt current meters are fully operational, the wireless temperature sensor is still under development in 2015.
The primary users of eMOLT data, aside from the lobstermen themselves, are local ocean circulation modelers. The need for data in initialization, assimilation, and validation of their numerical simulations is becoming more and more obvious. The complex time-varying nature of the Gulf of Maine system calls for incorporating as much data as possible in order to generate realistic flow fields. We hope to supplement the data supplied by both NERACOOS and MARACOOS by providing modelers with a extensive array of bottom observations as well as Lagrangian drifter tracks. Our hope is that these numerical models will someday help in our understanding of lobster larvae drift and the fate of any particles for that matter, such as Harmful Algal Blooms, along our coast. What are the mechanisms that govern the both the short-term and long-term variability of the GoM ecosystem and can we generate realistic, time-varying, 3-d simulations of these changes?
Our philosophy is that local fishermen already spend their days at sea, have the biggest stake in preserving our coastal marine resources, and are the most knowledgeable of the local waters. Their interest, curiosity, and enthusiasm are sincere. They should play an important part in our nation's Integrated Ocean Observing Systems.