Unsupported Browser Detected

Internet Explorer lacks support for the features of this website. For the best experience, please use a modern browser such as Chrome, Firefox, or Edge.

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

April 15, 2022

We collect plankton samples from the Northeast U.S. continental shelf throughout the year, every year, and make that data available to everyone.

An illustration of the life cycle of Calanus finmarchicus showing a circle of arrows indicating the transitions from eggs at the top, to nauplii to the right, copepodite stages I through V from upper to lower right.  Stage V follows one of two paths, either direct maturation within a season, indicated by an arrow through the middle, or a type of hibernation called diapause, continuing the circle at the bottom.  Both paths lead to the adult stages, male and female, on the left, which then leads back to eggs.
Life cycle of Calanus finmarchicus

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 plankton, are food for many species including commercially important fish species and large whales. The egg and larval stage of many fish and large invertebrate species are also plankton.

Plankton data can help us:

  • Estimate how many fish were in an area to spawn
  • See how populations are shifting or changing their habitat due to environment change and other stressors
  • Understand the state of our marine ecosystems

We collect, maintain, and make available the most comprehensive plankton dataset for the Northeast U.S. shelf and surrounding areas. Instructions for how to access that data are below.

Accessing the Data

Our EcoMon plankton data are publicly accessible online through the National Centers for Environmental Information

The data are from our four longest running programs:

Cite as:

US DOC/NOAA/NMFS > Zooplankton and ichthyoplankton abundance and distribution in the North Atlantic collected by the Ecosystem Monitoring (EcoMon) Project from 1977-02-13 to 2021-11-15  (NCEI Accession 0187513). [indicate subset used]. NOAA National Centers for Environmental Information. Dataset. https://www.ncei.noaa.gov/archive/accession/0187513. Accessed [date].

About the Data

Zooplankton (92 taxa) and ichthyoplankton (45 taxa) in the public dataset represent the most abundant taxa on the Northeast U.S. shelf, and have the best quality assurance and quality control measures.

For example, we provide a single value for all Euphausiacea and multiple values for individual species (e.g., Thysanoessa inermis, Meganyctiphanes norvegica, Euphausia americana). Euphausiacea abundance includes the values for the individual taxa so you need to be careful not to double count abundances when examining these groups. The metadata includes the taxa codes included for each category.

Learn more about Ecosystem Monitoring of the Northeast U.S. Continental Shelf: Survey Details


Kane, J. (2007) Zooplankton abundance trends on Georges Bank, 1977-2004. ICES Journal of Marine Science 64(5):909-919. doi: 10.1093/icesjms/fsm066

Richardson, D.E., J.A. Hare, W.J. Overholtz, D.L. Johnson (2010) Development of long-term larval indices for Atlantic herring (Clupea harengus) on the northeast US continental shelf. ICES Journal of Marine Science 67 (4), 617-627. doi: 10.1093/icesjms/fsp276

Kane, J. (2011) Inter-decadal variability of zooplankton abundance in the Middle Atlantic Bight. Journal of Northwest Atlantic Fishery Science 43: 81-92. doi: 10.2960/J.v43.m674

Walsh, H.J., D.E. Richardson, K.E. Marancik, J.A. Hare (2015) Long-Term Changes in the Distributions of Larval and Adult Fish in the Northeast U.S. Shelf Ecosystem. PLoS ONE 10(9): e0137382. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0137382.

Simpson, C.A., M.J. Wilberg, H. Bi, A.M. Schueller, G.M. Nesslage, and H.J. Walsh (2016) Trends in Relative Abundance and Early Life Survival of Atlantic Menhaden during 1977-2013 from Long-Term Ichthyoplankton Programs. Transactions of the American Fisheries Society, 145: 1139-1151, doi: 10.1080/00028487.2016.1201004

Morse, R.E., K.D. Friedland, D. Tommasi, C. Stock, J. Nye (2017) Distinct zooplankton regime shift patterns across ecoregions of the US Northeast continental shelf Large Marine Ecosystem. Journal of Marine Systems 165, 77-91. doi: 10.1016/j.jmarsys.2016.09.011

For questions or more information, contact Harvey Walsh

Last updated by Northeast Fisheries Science Center on 08/15/2023