Western Channel Observatory

NERC National Capability of the Plymouth Marine Laboratory and Marine Biological Association


Welcome to the Western Channel Observatory Website

L4 E1 map

What is the Western Channel Observatory?

The Western Channel Observatory (WCO) is an oceanographic time-series and marine biodiversity reference site in the Western English Channel. In situ measurements are undertaken weekly at coastal station L4 and fortnightly at open shelf station E1 using the research vessels of the Plymouth Marine Laboratory and the Marine Biological Association. These measurements are complemented by PML's recognised excellence in ecosystem modelling and satellite remote sensing science. By integrating these different observational disciplines we can begin to disentangle the complexity of the marine ecosystem.

From photons to fish, from seconds to centuries ...

The WCO measures several key parameters important to the functioning of the marine ecosystem such as light, temperature, salinity and nutrients. Station L4 has some of the longest time-series in the world for zooplankton and phytoplankton, and fish trawls have been made by the MBA for a century. Station L4 also has UN Ocean Decade-recognised biomolecular observations. Station E1 has a hydrographic series dating from 1903. These long series are complemented by hourly measurements made at our moorings situated at both stations. These can elucidate changes not captured by the routine weekly sampling.

Please visit our data page to learn about the full suite of atmospheric, pelagic and benthic measurements made at our WCO sites.

Smart Sound Plymouth

Smart Sound Plymouth is Britain's premier proving area for designing, testing and developing cutting edge products and services for the marine sector.

Satellite data

PML operationally processes satellite derived fields of sea-surface temperature and ocean colour, which can be used to derive chlorophyll. These data allow the point measurements at L4 and E1 to be set in a wider context.

Ecosystem modelling

The western English Channel is a useful test area for developing ecosystem models. Data from the WCO are used to develop, parameterise and validate models and ideas.

Benthic survey thumbnail

Benthic survey

The Benthic survey sampling at the WCO started in 2008 and covers a series of contrasting sites in the Plymouth area, with focus on L4. A wide range of ecological, physical and chemical parameters are measured.

WCO Pelagic time-series

Pelagic Time-series

Time series of pelagic data at the main WCO sites includes over a century of measurements, now with over 3 decades of weekly-resolution measurements.


Atmospheric Chemistry Observatory

PML operates an Atmospheric Observatory at the mouth of Plymouth Sound: an ideal position for monitoring the impact of anthropogenic and natural sources of trace gases and their fluxes.

About Us

The WCO is a partnership between the Plymouth Marine Laboratory and the Marine Biological Association.

How are we funded?

The core work of the WCO is funded as part of the UK Natural Environment Research Council's National Capability.

Contact Information

For more details about the WCO please contact:

Dr Tim Smyth
Western Channel Observatory
Plymouth Marine Laboratory
Prospect Place
email: tjsm@pml.ac.uk