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Exploring Mote Marine Laboratory Oceanography Data in the Classroom

Access Transect station data from the Phytoplankton Ecology Program (more info) at the Mote Marine Laboratory
This webpage was created for SERC by Heather Rissler.
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The Dataset

Transect station data from the Phytoplankton Ecology Program (more info) at the Mote Marine Laboratory provide processed data in graphical form illustrating salinity, temperature, fluorescence, and density for a transect station in the Gulf of Mexico near Sarasota Springs, FL.

Use and Relevance

The Mote Marine Laboratory Phytoplankton Ecology Program focuses on microscopic plants in the oceans, many of which produce harmful toxins. Eating red tide infected shellfish can be fatal (more info) to humans. Red tides are controlled by a variety of factors including nutrient availability and viral infections (see Review). Scientists use data generated from the Phytoplankton Ecology Program to better understand conditions under which red tide blooms develop.

Use in Teaching

Graphical representation of fluorescence data from a transect station near Sarasota Springs, FL; from the Mote Marine Laboratory Phytoplankton Ecology Program.

This dataset can be used to teach the following topics and skills in physical and environmental oceanography:


  • Harmful algal bloom dynamics and prediction methods
  • Temperature-depth relationships
  • Relationships between temperature, salinity, and density
  • Understanding the use of CTD casts in making oceanographic measurements


  • Using data to make hypotheses about factors that may induce algal blooms
  • Using hypotheses to make predictions about factors leading to algal blooms and testing these predictions
  • Using the data to make visualizations of temporal changes
  • Interpreting transect and vertical profile data and their representation on maps

Exploring the Data

Data Type and Presentation

Raw data are processed and represented as images in GIF format. Images (separate for each measured parameter) are archived for the years 1998 to 2004.

Accessing the Data

Data are provided as links to dates for CTD measurements. By choosing a specific date, users gain access to GIF files containing processed data in the form of maps that illustrate transect and vertical profile data.

Manipulating Data and Creating Visualizations

Students can process and stack transect images using an image processing tool such as ImageJ. Students can create representations by to observe seasonal and annual variations in salinity, temperature, density, and fluorescence. Transects can also be examined in the months leading up to two red tide incidents that are shown for 03/30/98 and 05/18/98, allowing students to make or test predictions about factors that contribute to bloom formation.

Tools for Data Manipulation

Image processing tools, such as ImageJ, can be used to process and stack GIF images and to create animations. The Earth Exploration Toolkit provides information on obtaining ImageJ. The National Institutes of Health provide a brief tutorial on basic concepts and use of ImageJ.

About the Data

Collection Methods

The Transect project provides data archived as images. Salinity, density, and temperature were measured using CTD casts for 30 meter vertical profiles. Transect data collection occurred in 5 mile increments, extending up to 30 miles offshore (Gulf of Mexico; Sarasota Springs, FL). A fluorometer attached to the CTD was used to measure fluorescence (inferring phytoplankton density).

Limitations and Sources of Error

Sources of error can occur in data transmission from CTD casts and data quality can be affected by factors that may damage or interfere with instrumentation. The data do not address other issues pertinent to bloom dynamics such as iron content and viral particle density.

References and Resources

Other Related Scientific References

Other related Education Resources

Related Links