Exploring Oceanography in the Classroom Using Data from the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute

Access Data from the MBARI Homepage

This webpage was created for SERC by Heather Rissler and Aleshia Mueller in consultation with George Matsumoto, Senior Education and Research Specialist at MBARI.

The Dataset

The Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute (MBARI) provides near real-time, quality controlled, oceanographic data in many places on it's website. Four of the main datasets include: mooring, mapping, MUSE (part of AOSN), and visual data. Moorings in the Monterey Bay provide real-time data for a number of parameters including surface and subsurface temperature and salinity; CO2 and O2 concentrations; atmospheric data; and relative fluorescence. Bathymetric data provides sea-floor surface maps from locations including Hawaii, the Monterey Bay region, and the Santa Barbara basin. Raw and processed data are available from the MOOS Upper-Water-Column Science Experiment (MUSE), which implemented a variety of methodologies and instrumentation to examine the impacts of natural iron enrichment on geochemical cycles and phytoplankton dynamics. An extensive visual data collection is also available, providing video and image data of organisms observed in the Monterey Bay region.

Use and Relevance

Vampire Squid Photo: Kim Reisenbichler (c) 1996 MBARI Image of a vampire squid from MBARI.
Scientists use these data sets to better understand the Monterey Bay ecosystem and draw parallels to the ocean as a whole. Their examinations span a diverse range of studies including sensing the land-sea nitrogen cycle; discovering new marine organisms; understanding phytoplankton primary production in response to ocean upwellings and climate change; monitoring population dynamics of marine organisms and impacts of the ocean environment on midwater and deep-living pelagic species; evaluating the presence and distribution of chemosynthetic microbes in the Monterey Bay ecosystem; examining the seismology of the ocean floor; and characterizing ocean nutrient cycling.

Use in Teaching

Central Oregon margin (43°50’N to 45°10’N) resulting from collision of the Juan de Fuca and North American plates. Image of the central Oregon margin from MBARI.
This data can be used to teach the following topics and skills in physical, environmental, and biological oceanography:


  • Topography of the ocean floor
  • Ocean-floor plate tectonics
  • Meteorology
  • Ecology of the Monterey Bay region
  • Geochemical cycles
  • Phytoplankton primary productivity
  • Marine biodiversity


  • Understanding the relationships between wind speed and direction and ocean upwelling
  • Interpreting maps of physical oceanographic data
  • Understanding the methods used to obtain bathymetry data and maps of the ocean floor
  • Understanding the instrumentation used to examine physical and biological oceanography, including the use of molecular probes to monitor phytoplankton dynamics in response to changing biogeochemical cycles

Exploring the Data

Data Type and Presentation

Processed data in the form of maps, graphs, and images are available for download in GIF format. Raw data is provided in HTML tabular formant and ascii, tab delimited format.

Accessing the Data

Data can be accessed by exploring specific projects at MBARI:

  • Mooring Data: Two Moorings (M1 at 36.75°N -122.03°W and M2 at 36.7°N -122.39°W) collect data that is made available as temperature contours that graphically represent wind speed (Knots) and direction (North/South) and ocean temperature for the past 30 days at a depth up to 250m below surface. Colors indicate cooler (blue) versus warmer (green) water. By choosing "Quick Plots", users can examine either raw or quality controlled data for the past 7 days.
  • Mapping Data: Bathymetry data for regions in the Pacific Ocean is available as sea-floor maps that can be downloaded as JPEG images. To access the maps, users can choose a region of interest, which provides a map depicting all of the survey sites in that region. Users can click on a survey site on the map or in the survey site list to obtain a detailed bathymetric map for that site.
  • MUSE Data: MUSE data can be accessed by projects, which are typically represented by the instrumentation used. For example, users can choose "Drifters" to access drifter data, which can be downloaded in HTML tabular format, or they can choose "Autonomous Underwater Vehicles" to access AUV data, which can be downloaded as GIF images.
  • Visual Data: Video tapes, camera logs, video annotations, frame grabs, navigation, CTDO, non-core data or data specific to new instrumentation, and samples are available. In addition, MBARI's Video Annotation and Reference System (VARS) provides tools for describing, cataloging, retrieving, and viewing the visual, descriptive, and quantitative data associated with MBARI's deep-sea video archives.

Manipulating Data and Creating Visualizations

Data in the form of graphs and images can be used to make temporal and spatial comparisons and correlations between biological and physical oceanographic data. For example, one could compare sea-floor features in different regions or compare the daily and weekly cycles of fluorescence to see whether they correlate with carbon dioxide concentrations. Raw data can be visualized in a spreadsheet application in order to make such temporal and spatial comparisons.

Tools for Data Manipulation

Raw data can be downloaded and imported into a spreadsheet application such as Excel for further processing. The Starting Point site provides an Excel tutorial.

About the Data

Collection Methods

There are three main vehicles for data collection at MBARI: remote vehicles, autonomous vehicles, and moorings. See below for more detailed information relating to the discussed datasets.

  • Mooring Data: Go to the Methods and Materials page to learn more about how data is collected on the moorings.
  • Mapping data: Seafloor Mapping survey data was collected using a new hull-mounted 30 kHz swath mapping system that collects swath bathymetry and associated backscatter data and a high resolution 120 kHz near-bottom towed sidescan system that provides interferometric bathymetry data.
  • MUSE Data: The MUSE project involved three ships, two aircraft, two satellites, two AUVs, several drifters, nine moorings, six gliders, and a host of small boats from various collaborating organizations.
  • Visual Data: Videos and images are from cameras on board research vessels and remotely operated vehicles.

Limitations and Sources of Error

Most error is due to standard calibration errors or instrument failure. Presented data is usually not raw, but processed for quality control and presented in tabular format or as a visualization. MBARI provides data "as is", with no warranty, express or implied, of the data quality or consistency. It is provided without support and without obligation on the part of the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute to assist in its use, correction, modification, or enhancement.

References and Resources

Scientific References that Use this Dataset

Education Resources that Use this Dataset

  • Education & Outreach at MBARI: Links to staff-generated educationl webpages related to ongoing research topics at MBARI.
  • EARTH (Education and Research: Testing Hypotheses): A collaboration between MBARI and the Monterey Bay Aquarium that provides educational models that integrate using data into the curriculum. Lesson plans examine content including Pelagaic Predators, Iron Fertilization, and Coastal Processes. Lesson plans are aligned to standards and skills and engage students activly in using data.

Other Related Scientific References

Other related Education Resources

Related Links

  • A Living Bay: The Underwater World of Monterey Bay: This book by Lovell and Libby Langstroth examines the biodiversity of flora and fauna in the Monterey Bay region.
  • The Monterey Bay Aquarium homepage contains links to educational materials related to oceanography and the Monterey Bay region.
  • The Land/Ocean Biogeochemical Observatory (LOBO) in Elkhorn Slough is to design and develop a real time chemical sensor network for marine systems.