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Monitoring the Ecosystem in the Northeast

The most comprehensive, ongoing program exploring marine resources and oceanographic conditions in the Northwest Atlantic. Our analyses inform local and international fisheries management, protected species research, and climate science.


Collect, Distribute, and Analyze: Our long-term ecosystem data (hydrography, ocean chemistry, plankton) and analyses feed research into everything from North Atlantic Right Whales to stock assessments.

Collaborate: We work closely with fishing industry, academic, and government (state, national, and international) partners.

Explore: Our research helps discover new ways to enhance fisheries and ecosystem management and to improve data collection and processing methods.


Over 40 Years of Ecosystem Monitoring on the Continental Shelf

crew retrieving CTD carousel frame at sea

This carousel frame is outfitted with a CTD and other oceanographic sensors to measure water quality. The frame has a series of water collection bottles for nutrient, chlorophyll, and ocean acidification analysis.

Every time we go to sea, we collect an on-site, broadscale view of what is going on in our East Coast continental shelf waters.

Plankton nets, pulled through the water down to 650 feet, collect small marine animals such as fish larvae, crab larvae, copepods, and small jellyfish.  Special equipment collects information on nutrients, acidity, temperature, salinity, and other parts of the marine environment.  Dedicated observers count and photograph marine mammals, turtles, and seabirds seen along the cruise tracks to better understand their migrations and how they find food and habitat on their journeys.

By examining these snapshots spanning the early 1970s to present, we have collected a comprehensive set of information on the offshore ecosystem of the Northeast U.S. continental shelf and surrounding marine habitats.  Without these glimpses into the environment, we wouldn't have the data to make informed decisions about how climate change is affecting our planet and what we can do to mitigate it.

Learn more about our surveys and data collection

Over 40 Years of Data Publicly Available

line graph of annual plankton biomass from the late 1970s to late 2010s with lines for the Middle Atlantic Bight, the Georges Bank, and the Gulf of Maine.  This illustrates how long-term data can help look for trends.

Annual plankton biomass through time

Our information is rigorously quality controlled and publicly available.  Our hydrographic and plankton databases span over 40 years, and the spatial and temporal coverage of the data is unrivalled in the Northeast region. These data highlight changes and trends in the abundance and distribution of marine life and their habitat in our coastal and offshore waters. 

The Plankton Archive includes zooplankton, larval fish, fish eggs, and cephalopods collected from the Northeast U.S. shelf and surrounding areas for over four decades.

Research Informing Fisheries Management and Climate Science


Our long history of collecting ocean measurements has produced the most comprehensive, ongoing, shelf-wide record of environmental conditions and database of plankton composition and abundance in the region. This includes the most complete dataset of ocean acidification measurements across the shelf.  We collaborate with the fishing industry and with academic and government partners to improve our understanding of the shelf ecosystem.

These data are the basis for reports documenting the effect of a changing climate on our coastal resources. Our data provide details necessary for fisheries management. We collect temperature, salinity, and water-chemistry data year-round during most of the Center cruises.  This information documents the seasonal and multiyear patterns in the water properties on the Northeast continental shelf.  Our research helps explain how the ecosystem influences the distribution, abundance, and productivity of marine species, such as North Atlantic right whales, tuna, tiny planktonic krill, copepods, and fish larvae.



Illustration of bongos, CTD and rosette, plankton, and sea birds

Personnel and Expertise

Our team of physical and biological oceanographers, taxonomists, climate scientists, fishery biologists, software engineers, and oceanographic equipment experts are led by Dr. Paula Fratantoni.

Learn more about our staff

Learn more about our Ecosystem Research Publications



Ecosystem Monitoring of the Northeast U.S. Continental Shelf: Plankton Dataset

Thousands of species spend part or all of their life cycle floating in the ocean at the mercy of wind, waves, and currents. These organisms, called…


2010-2019 Ecosystem Monitoring of the Northeast U.S. Continental Shelf: Cruise Reports

Complete coverage of the shelf (Cape Hatteras to the Gulf of Maine) also occurs during the spring and fall bottom trawl surveys. Station coverage on…


2010-2019 Hydrographic Conditions of the Northeast U.S. Continental Shelf: Conductivity-Temperature-Depth (CTD) Reports

Complete coverage of the shelf (Cape Hatteras to the Gulf of Maine) occurs during the spring and fall bottom trawl surveys and the Ecosystem…



Distinct Zooplankton Regime Shift Patterns Across Ecoregions Of The U.S. Northeast Continental Shelf Large Marine Ecosystem

We investigated regime shifts in seasonal zooplankton communities of the Northeast continental shelf Large Marine Ecosystem (NES) and its…


Environmental Monitors On Lobster Traps (eMOLT): Long-term Observations Of New England's Bottom-water Temperatures

Nearly one hundred New England lobstermen have installed temperature sensors on their traps to record hourly values at fixed locations since 2001…


Long-Term Changes in the Distributions of Larval and Adult Fish in the Northeast U.S. Shelf Ecosystem

Many studies have documented long-term changes in adult marine fish distributions and linked these changes to climate change and multi-decadal…

Last updated by Northeast Fisheries Science Center on August 29, 2023