Understanding how the Bight’s ocean waters move

We’re developing computer models of the ocean circulation and waves of the Great Australian Bight so we can understand the movements of pollutants, nutrients and marine life in the region.

The Challenge

Mapping fine-scale ocean circulation

Oceanic currents in the Great Australian Bight upwell nutrients that fertilise microscopic plants (phytoplankton), nourishing rich ecosystems that support sardines, tuna, lobsters, abalone, whales, sharks and seals. Also of interest are the Bight’s unusually large waves, well known to mariners, that can alter the ocean circulation itself.

Coastline near Albany, Western Australia.

The currents also link the productive continental shelves with the nutrient-rich deep ocean (where exploration for oil and gas will occur).

Understanding the movement of water in the Bight is important for understanding, protecting and managing marine ecosystems in the region.

While the broad-scale features of ocean circulation in the Great Australian Bight are relatively well known, the finer-scale ocean circulation requires further investigation. Physically measuring and mapping these currents is difficult and expensive.

Our Response

Modelling ocean circulation in the Bight

We’re working with the South Australian Research and Development Institute to build computer models that simulate current variations in the Bight, using previously recorded observations to ‘hindcast’ the day-to-day changes of ocean circulation over many years.

The models will be verified by satellite and in-situ observations. These data will include:

  • current meter moorings deployed by BP
  • BP wave and meteorological buoys installed in the Bight
  • Integrated Marine Observing System (IMOS) moorings, gliders, mammal-borne sensors and high frequency radars
  • Argo autonomous deep-profiling probes and gliders
  • Bureau of Meteorology wave buoys and coastal tide gauges
  • satellite observations of wave height, sea level, temperature and ocean colour
  • international global model estimates of atmospheric, wave and ocean variables.

This project is part of the Great Australian Bight research program.

The Results

Information for monitoring and management

This project will help us understand ecological pathways as well as the movement of water-borne pollutants in the Great Australian Bight, so we can better anticipate any impacts that offshore exploration might have on the ecosystem of the area.

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