High Resolution Temperature Sensors to Study Crucial Sea Surface Heating Installed in Cayman Islands

Installation of 4 sensors on CCMI’s ICON tower launches new joint study with UM on ocean heating and cooling cycles

self-logging sensor
Photo credit: M. Rosen, Shoals Marine Lab
Self-logging sensor which record sea temperature and pressure every 6 minutes installed on pylon in Little Cayman.

Georgetown, Cayman Islands — February 4, 2011 — Four high-resolution sensors to record temperature within the shallow waters of the Cayman Islands were installed on the Central Cayman Marine Institute (CCMI) tower on the reef off Little Cayman this week. Scientists from the University of Miami (UM) Rosenstiel School of Marine & Atmospheric Science are teaming up with CCMI to begin to develop higher resolution models of how the surface layer of the ocean cools and heats, indicated Dr. Carrie Manfrino, CCMI’s Director of Research and Conservation and alumna of the Rosenstiel School. “Improving our models of surface heating in the ocean is especially important in areas containing coral reef systems because they are highly susceptible to intense thermal stress.”

After examining preliminary data from around the Caribbean, Little Cayman was selected as the best site for this particular study. Dr. Peter Minnett, professor and the lead scientist from UM, indicated that “the particular advantages of this site are the absence of strong tidal currents, the absence of freshwater from river run-off, which can introduce an added complication through salinity variations, and the absence of turbid water, again from rivers, that can alter the way in which the solar radiation is absorbed in the water.”

“These are some of the reasons why the Little Cayman Research Centre was developed on that particular site,” indicated Samantha Shaxted, CCMI’s Director of Communications and Development. “As an oceanographic observatory, Little Cayman provides an excellent control site because of the minimal inflow of sediment, nutrients, and freshwater.”

“The purpose of our research is to improve our understanding of the daily heating and cooling cycles of the ocean through measurements and modeling. This research requires very accurate measurements of the temperatures at the surface and at several depths down to the corals,” said Minnett.

According to Minnett the applications are primarily threefold:

  • to contribute to our knowledge of the physics of the upper ocean
  • to improve models of surface heating to facilitate better compositing of satellite retrievals of sea-surface temperature taken at different times of the day
  • and to improve our capability of extending measurements of heating at the surface, measured by satellite, to the depths of the corals below allowing us to better predict situations where the corals may be stressed by heat and radiation.

Once added to CCMI’s Little Cayman Integrated Coral Observing Network (ICON) the new instruments will provide measurements of temperatures at additional depths to provide information on the curvature of the heating profile. Minnett added that this information will be used by scientists to refine models of the heating and cooling cycles throughout the water column so that surface temperatures derived from satellite measurements can be used to predict temperatures at the depth of the corals.

“We are grateful for the support rendered by the Central Caribbean Marine Institute through their Little Cayman Research Centre, and by the NOAA Atlantic Oceanographic and Meteorological Laboratory in Miami, Florida” said Minnett. This research is supported by NASA, and the data that are collected by these sensors will be downloaded on a monthly basis and sent back to the lab for analysis by UM Ph.D. student, Xiaofang Zhu.

The Central Caribbean Marine Institute was incorporated in 1998 as a non-profit 501c3 organization. CCMI was established as an international charitable organization after becoming incorporated in the Cayman Islands (2002) and in the UK in 2004. Since its first years, CCMI has proven a valuable asset to the effort of understanding changing coral reef and tropical marine environments, and its research and education programs have established a solid foundation for future reef education and awareness in the Caribbean and for students and researchers from around the world.

A key component of the organization's strategy was realized in May 2006 with the opening of the Little Cayman Research Center. Laboratories, a classroom, dormitory-style and private rooms, and a sustainable off-the-grid bathhouse. Easy access to the reefs make this an important new research and education centre for all of the Cayman Islands and enables programmes like the Ocean Literacy project to be possible.

The University of Miami’s mission is to educate and nurture students, to create knowledge, and to provide service to our community and beyond. Committed to excellence and proud of the diversity of our University family, we strive to develop future leaders of our nation and the world. Founded in the 1940’s, the Rosenstiel School of Marine & Atmospheric Science has grown into one of the world’s premier marine and atmospheric research institutions. Offering dynamic interdisciplinary academics, the Rosenstiel School is dedicated to helping communities to better understand the planet, participating in the establishment of environmental policies, and aiding in the improvement of society and quality of life.

Samantha Shaxted,
Barbra Gonzalez,

dr. carrie manfrino •  dr. peter minnett •  modeling •  temperature •