Cal Poly physics students are researching marine heat waves and their effects on local coastlines and ecosystems.
Physics senior Michael Dalsin began looking at heat wave patterns in the spring of 2022 using data received from the Diablo Canyon power plant that spanned from 1978 to 2020.
“We looked at how large-scale Pacific Ocean patterns influenced the heat waves here, but we also looked at how local wind patterns influenced the heat waves,” Daslin said. “We kind of came up with a way to explain or quantify how much is affected by the local stuff, how much is affected by the Pacific Ocean wide patterns, and then how much are we not seeing?”
This June, Dalsin published his research alongside Associate Professor of Physics Ryan Walter. Since publishing, they have received positive feedback from peers in the field and have started working on follow-up research.
“We’ve had a lot of great conversations afterward with other scientists about, you know, projects to follow up on because what we really saw was a lot of potential and a lot more questions that came out of the study,” Dalsin said.
Physics Senior Isabelle Cobb has started researching the effects of marine heatwaves on local coastlines, specifically looking at sea surface temperature data at two locations – one close to shore and one farther offshore.
“Mine is more looking into okay, now that we have these marine heat waves, how are they actually affecting the coastline?,” Cobb said. “And, how are they different in different locations depending on lots of different physical factors?”
Though they are still conducting research and have not found any strict results yet, they have found an interesting comparison between heat waves close to shore and ones more off-shore.
“We’ve started to find that the offshore location tends to have longer and more intense marine heatwaves because there’s less upwelling there. So you’re getting less upwelling of these cold waters.” Cobb said.
As Cobb works on this research with the help of Dalsin and other Cal Poly students and professors, there is also room for testing to be done to see how these heat waves will affect marine ecosystems and resources.
According to Dalsin, marine biologists at Cal Poly are considering using this study to design thermal stress testing experiments on fish and other marine organisms by putting them in a tank and seeing how they respond to the conditions they find in the ocean.
“In this way, you can kind of get a record that can explain population migrations, and you know, other sorts of things and set the stage for more research on the impacts of heat waves,” Dalsin said. “Which is really why this research matters in the first place is, you know, how does it affect our marine resources?” Dalsin said.
This student-led research is leading to new scientific discoveries and is allowing more students to get involved in academic research opportunities at Cal Poly.