Santa Barbara Coastal LTER

Students of the ESA SEEDS program learn about the dynamics of a small coastal estuary during their 2007 field trip to the SBC LTER.10/1/2007. Photo by SBC staff

Key Research Findings:

SBC scientists used new remote sensing technology to study giant kelp forests over time scales ranging from weeks to decades. Results demonstrated the value of high-resolution satellite imagery for observing long-term effects of climate change and human activities on sensitive marine ecosystems.
SBC scientists cultivated new working relationships with the fishing industry to establish mutual learning for improved fisheries management. Scientists incorporated local ecological knowledge into assessments of marine reserves and fish populations, and fishers adopted a community based approach for monitoring the long-term sustainability of their fisheries.
For years, scientists have debated whether nutrient inputs or herbivory more influence the growth of kelp forests. SBC scientists discovered that wave disturbance is the surprising and overwhelming influence on kelp forest growth, which has important implications for how climate change may impact these sensitive and crucial coastal ecosystems.


The Santa Barbara Coastal LTER is located in the coastal zone of southern California near Santa Barbara. It is bounded by the steep east-west trending Santa Ynez Mountains and coastal plain to the north and the unique Northern Channel Islands archipelago to the south. Point Conception, where the coast of California returns to a north to south orientation, lies at the western boundary, and the Santa Clara River marks its eastern edge.The site lies on the active boundary of the Pacific Oceanic Plate and the North American Continental Plate. High levels of tectonic activity have created dramatic elevation gradients in both the terrestrial and the underwater landscapes of the site. The Santa Barbara Channel includes some of the deepest ocean basins known on the continental shelf along with remarkable submarine canyons and escarpments.

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The SBC LTER was established in April 2000. The kelp forests, coastal ocean and watersheds of this area have been studied independently for many years.

Research Topics:

Effects of land use and ocean forcing on the processing and transport of nutrients and carbon to giant kelp forests.
Role of climate change/variability and disturbance on nearshore population dynamics, community structure, and ecosystem processes.
Controls on reef food webs.

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