Ocean Station ALOHA

A Milestones in Microbiology site

Ocean Station ALOHA, the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa’s research site 60 miles north of O‘ahu has been designated a Milestones in Microbiology site by the American Society for Microbiology (ASM). 

The ASM Milestones in Microbiology program recognizes institutions and scientists that have made significant contributions toward advancing the microbial sciences.

This open-ocean research station “has played a fundamental role in defining the discipline of microbial oceanography, developing a comprehensive understanding of the sea and educating the public about the critical role of marine microbes in global ecosystems,” ASM officials noted in their citation.

Water sampling operations at Station ALOHA. This device, termed a CTD-rosette, contains a suite of instruments to collect environmental data as well as a set of 24 water sampling bottles. This instrument is able to sample the water column properties and to return discrete water samples from the surface to the abyss. Photo: Tara Clemente

Birthplace of Microbial Oceanography

While microbial oceanography was emerging as a field of inquiry, scientists at the UH Mānoa School of Ocean and Earth Science and Technology (SOEST) proposed a bold new program—the Hawai‘i Ocean Time-series (HOT) research program—and selected Station ALOHA (A Long-term Oligotrophic Habitat Assessment) as the deep ocean site representative of the vast North Pacific Subtropical Gyre, one of Earth’s largest biomes. Since the program’s inception in 1988, the National Science Foundation (NSF) has been the major funding agency, with UH Mānoa and SOEST providing invaluable support including efficient operation of its oceanographic research vessels.

“It soon became a trans-disciplinary collaboration among individuals who traditionally did not interact (microbiologists, physical scientists, oceanographers, mathematicians and educators), and created unique opportunities for scientific discovery, knowledge transfer and outreach to society at large,” said David Karl, HOT co-founder, Victor and Peggy Brandstrom Pavel Professor of Ocean and Earth Science and director of the Daniel K. Inouye Center for Microbial Oceanography: Research and Education (C-MORE). “Ocean Station ALOHA may be viewed as the birthplace of microbial oceanography.”

Ocean Microbes—Small But Mighty

Since 1988, teams of scientists have conducted pioneering research at Ocean Station ALOHA that has transformed the ecological understanding of the most abundant life forms in the sea—microorganisms. The teams have discovered complex microbial interactions, numerous novel microorganisms and unprecedented metabolic pathways; and have made significant contributions to the understanding of the impacts of climate change on marine ecosystems. 

Building On Success

In 2006, the capacity of the HOT program was enhanced with the creation of the NSF-supported C-MORE, one of only 17 Science and Technology Centers in the nation. This multi-institutional collaboration was established to investigate the identities and impacts of microorganisms including their potential responses to climate change. In addition, C-MORE has an important education mission: to train a new breed of inter-disciplinary microbial oceanographers; to develop curricula at the undergraduate and graduate levels and to increase the number of students and teachers engaged in science and engineering, focusing on under-represented groups, especially Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders.

A third research program, the Simons Collaboration on Ocean Processes and Ecology (SCOPE), was created in July 2014, to complement the objectives of HOT and C-MORE. Discoveries await the SCOPE scientists who will investigate, in greater detail than ever before, the microbially-mediated processes that govern the flow of matter and energy at Ocean Station ALOHA.

Education and Raising Public Awareness

Through public and private partnerships with the NSF, the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation and the Simons Foundation, Ocean Station ALOHA has increased public awareness of the science of microbial oceanography and its global importance. 

“The value of Ocean Station ALOHA continues to increase with time: its initial beginnings as a place to quantify ocean change from shipboard sampling has steadily evolved to become the model site for integration of ocean research and education,” said Matt Church, SOEST oceanography professor and lead investigator of the HOT program. “Among the most successful examples of this integration is the international summer school developed as a partnership with the Agouron Institute in 2006. This school has trained more than 150 students in the growing discipline of microbial oceanography.”