Kelp Forest Hydrodynamics

How do kelp forests affect the ocean around them?

The Kelp Forest Hydrodynamics Study, led by UC Davis Ph.D. student Kristen Elsmore, her advisor Dr. Brian Gaylord, and Dr. Kerry J. Nickols of CSU Northridge will help to inform how kelp forests influence current patterns, wave velocity, and sediment transport off the coast of the Palos Verdes Peninsula.

More storms and larger waves pounding the Southern California coastline are major causes for concern if we hope to preserve our beaches and rocky shorelines for future generations to enjoy. TBF is spearheading a study that will investigate how we can protect our shorelines using our proven kelp forest restoration techniques.

TBF’s kelp forest restoration sites make the perfect study areas, allowing instruments to measure physical, chemical, and biological data before the presence of kelp in an urchin barren, and after the presence of kelp when restoration work is complete.

Instruments that measure current flow, wave attenuation, and stratification are placed in our restoration sites, which start out as urchin barrens with little to no kelp influencing water flow.

The instruments continuously record physical oceanographic data as kelp recovers and grows into dense, healthy kelp forests reaching from the ocean floor to the water surface and forming a thick canopy.

TBF diver installing a pressure sensor at the study site

TBF diver installing a pressure sensor at the study site


This dense underwater forest changes the way water and sediment move inshore from the deep ocean, and along the California coastline. Mature kelp forests have the potential to dampen the effects of waves before they reach our beaches and shorelines, to help mitigate the effects of climate change in the future.

TBF divers installing an ADCP to measure currents

TBF divers installing an ADCP to measure currents.


Measuring the Physical and Chemical Ocean

The following tools will be used to measure physical, chemical, and biological responses to the presence of kelp in our study sites:

Acoustic Doppler Current Profilers (ACDPs)– These instruments measure changes in current flow using the “Doppler effect” which uses sound waves scattered back from particles within the water column to measure water movement around the instrument.

Pressure Sensors– These instruments measure wave and tide data by sensing pressure differences in the water. As a surface wave passes over a subsurface pressure sensor, the elevation and depression of the sea surface cause a pressure disturbance that is then measured by the sensor.

Temperature Loggers– These instruments take timed measurements of the water temperature surrounding the instrument. When placed in varying depths, this data can help us understand stratification and mixing throughout the water column.

Niskin Bottles– These specialized containers allow researchers to take water samples at predetermined depths in the water column to analyze chemical components of the sea water, such as dissolved oxygen and pH.

Biological Monitoring– SCUBA based underwater surveys will quantify the growth of kelp over time, and the presence of invertebrates and fish in response to the increase in kelp density.


Learn More

Project Partners

Kristen Elsmore

Dr. Brian Gaylord

Dr. Kerry J. Nickols

UC Davis Bodega Marine Laboratory


This project is funded in part by the California State Coastal Conservancy’s Climate Ready Program.