Project Number
Project Date Range
Funding Agency
California Ocean Protection Council (OPC), National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)
Focus Area(s)
Healthy Coastal Ecosystems




This project will investigate the thermal tolerance for six different kelp species in an effort to better understand how these communities might respond to future climate change. In addition we will explore the role of genetics in regulating kelp sensitivity to warm water, we will establish a seed bank of thermally tolerant individuals, explore development during the microscopic stages and explore experimental restoration in the field. 



More frequent and intense El Niño events and marine heat waves continue to threaten kelp forests globally. The impacts are likely to be felt particularly strongly in southern California which constitutes the geographical limit for kelp forests in the US, meaning that kelp populations in this area already experience higher temperatures than kelp populations elsewhere in the country.

This project will investigate the effects of thermal stress at the cellular and organismal levels for six kelp species. The team will assess if there are differences in thermal tolerance between populations and how this might be reflected in their genomes. Kelp with unique genetics/thermal tolerance will be outplanted in the field and monitored for survival and growth. 

If thermally tolerant populations of Macrocystis exist in California, they are likely to be found along the San Diego coast due to the local climate. The genomes of any heat-tolerant populations that are identified will be saved in a living seed bank. The results of this project will be of direct use for resource managers trying to restore kelp in areas where it might be exposed to high ocean temperatures due to El Niño events and future marine heat waves.

This project will uniquely work with Coastal Defenders, a grassroots, community-based environmental, social and restorative justice non-profit organization co-create a kelp internship program their Indigenous Leadership Youth Program. 


Principal Investigators
Jennifer Smith
University of California, San Diego, Scripps Institution of Oceanography
Co-principal Investigators
Siobhan Braybrook
University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA)
Todd Michael
The Salk Institute for Biological Studies
Jules Jackson
Coastal Defenders
Mohammad Sedarat
Scripps Institution of Oceanography at University of California, San Diego