Science Serving Maryland's Coasts

Current Research Projects

Since 1977, Maryland Sea Grant has funded scientific research relevant to the Chesapeake Bay and the Maryland residents who conserve, enjoy, and make their living from it. We strive to fund projects that both advance scientific knowledge and offer practical results benefiting ecosystems, communities, and economies throughout the Chesapeake Bay region.

Click on an individual project to find out more. Search current and past research projects here.

Application of an Individual Based Model to Understand the Effects of Climate Change on Blue Crab, Callinectes sapidus, Population

Principal Investigator: 

Thomas Miller

Institution: 

Chesapeake Biological Laboratory, University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science

Summary: 

The blue crab, Callinectes sapidus, serves an important ecological and economic role in the Chesapeake Bay. Projected climate change scenarios, however, will fundamentally disrupt the existing ecological and economic pattern and may have profound impacts on management regimes and social patterns for coastal communities who rely on the blue crab fishery. This project looks to use data from environmental experiments to forecast the population level impacts of climate change on blue crab in the Bay.

Evaluating the Relative Impacts of the Recreational and Commercial Sectors of the Blue Crab Fishery in Maryland

Principal Investigator: 

Anson H. Hines

Institution: 

Smithsonian Environmental Research Center

Co-Principal Investigator: 

Matthew B. Ogburn, Smithsonian Environmental Research Center; Eric G. Johnson, University of North Florida, Department of Biology

Summary: 

The blue crab, Callinectes sapidus, is perhaps the Chesapeake Bay's most iconic species, supporting the Bay's most lucrative commercial fishery and a thriving recreational fishery. The fishery is complex, with multiple management jurisdictions, regional and seasonal variation in fishing gear and effort, and a variety of markets. In stock assessment models used for fishery management, recreational harvest is estimated to be 8% of commercial harvest, but this estimate is outdated and is based on highly variable estimates of recreational fishing. The primary objective of this study is to generate scientifically-rigorous estimates of recreational crab harvest for Maryland waters of the Chesapeake Bay.

Exploring the Connectivity of Sediment Transport in Upper Chesapeake Bay

Principal Investigator: 

Cindy Palinkas

Institution: 

Horn Point Laboratory, University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science

Summary: 

This research looks to improve the the sediment-transport model between the lower Susquehanna River to the upper Chesapeake Bay through the development of sediment budgets and exploring techniques to differentiate sediment sources. Results from this project are expected to inform water quality and coastal resilience issues in the Chesapeake Bay region for local governments and the general public.

From Genes to Ecosystems: Integrating Measures of Aquatic Biodiversity and Ecosystem Health Within Urbanizing Bay Watersheds

Principal Investigator: 

Robert Hilderbrand

Institution: 

Appalachian Laboratory, University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science

Co-Principal Investigator: 

Stephen R. Keller, Appalachian Laboratory, University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science; Alyson Santoro, Horn Point Laboratory, University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science

Summary: 

Land-use changes create numerous adverse impacts on stream ecosystems within the Chesapeake Bay watershed, including degraded water quality for both human and non-human use. Fish and benthic macroinvertebrates are traditionally used as indicators of biotic response to watershed disturbance. However, these indicators do not necessarily reflect the status of key ecosystem processes such as the metabolism of nutrients and other pollutants that otherwise can flow to coastal waters. Microbial communities drive many ecosystem processes, including nutrient cycling, and thus their diversity and composition have great potential to assess and possibly mitigate impacts on aquatic ecosystems. However, almost nothing is known about the biogeography of microbial community diversity in stream ecosystems and how this varies with watershed alterations.  Working with the Maryland Biological Stream Survey, this study will robustly characterize the relationships between microbial diversity and land use change within the Chesapeake Bay watershed. 

Retrospective Analysis of Nutrient and Sediment Loadings to the Chesapeake Bay: Exploration of Trends and Affecting Factors

Principal Investigator: 

William P. Ball

Institution: 

Johns Hopkins University

Summary: 

Toward controlling hypoxia in Chesapeake Bay, management programs have focused for decades on reducing nitrogen, phosphorus, and suspended sediment loads from the Chesapeake Bay Watershed (CBW). In this context, the Chesapeake Bay Partnership (CBP) is currently working to improve its model-based support for the establishment of Total Maximum Daily Loads and the associated development (by others) of Watershed Implementation Plans. This project will help better quantify important nutrient and sediment trends in the major tributaries of the CBW and develop new understanding of the applicability, uncertainty, and accuracy of the WRTDS method, a state-of-the-art riverine loading estimation method developed by the USGS as an alternative to the Chesapeake Bay Model. 

Riparian Buffer Indicators of Eco-Hydraulic Function for Improved Watershed Management and Monitoring

Principal Investigator: 

Matthew Baker

Institution: 

University of Maryland, Baltimore County

Summary: 

Forest “buffers,” or trees planted along the edge of a waterway, can help to trap the excess nutrients and sediments in runoff before they enter a local stream. But forest buffer trees often have poor survival rates because their environments are prone to frequent flooding and other disturbances. In this study, researchers are exploring the particular tree species that grow the best under different stream conditions. The results could help restoration experts to decide what trees to plant in a particular environment to help improve water quality.

Role of a Resilient Submersed Plant Bed in Mitigating the Effects of Increasing River-borne Particulate Inputs to Chesapeake Bay: Nutrient Cycling

Principal Investigator: 

W. Michael Kemp

Institution: 

Horn Point Laboratory, University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science

Co-Principal Investigator: 

Jeffrey C. Cornwell, Horn Point Laboratory, University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science

Summary: 

Recent analyses suggest trends of increasing particulate P and N loading from Susquehanna River to upper Bay. These trends, which appear related to sediment infilling of Conowingo reservoir, represent a large impediment to achieving TMDL allocations needed for improved Bay water quality. To assess ecological consequences of increased PP and PN, this project will examine how bioavailability changes in time and space and especially within the Bay's largest SAV bed, which is potentially capable of huge nutrient retention during the spring/summer. These data will help to improve model simulation of key processes and to assess alternative management actions to minimize ecological impacts of planned reservoir modification.  

Role of a Resilient Submersed Plant Bed in Mitigating the Effects of Increasing River-borne Particulate Inputs to Chesapeake Bay: Sediment Dynamics

Principal Investigator: 

Lawrence P. Sanford

Institution: 

Horn Point Laboratory, University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science

Co-Principal Investigator: 

Cindy M. Palinkas, Horn Point Laboratory, University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science

Summary: 

The Conowingo Dam has historically trapped a significant fraction of the sediments and particulate nutrients carried by the Susquehanna River bound for Chesapeake Bay (CB). However, the effective trapping capacity of the dam may be decreasing, such that more of these materials reach the CB than in the past. However, the role of the extensive beds of submersed aquatic vegetation (SAV) that occupy the Susquehanna Flats (SF) in modulating these inputs has not yet been addressed. The resurgence of these SAV beds, and their cold-season senescence, may significantly mitigate the ecosystem effects of inflowing materials from behind the dam through seasonal trapping, re-release, burial, and transformation.  The proposed study focuses on the sedimentary history of the SF over the last ~100 years, and on the modern, seasonally varying, dynamics of sediment trapping and release on the SF. 

Understanding Atlantic Menhaden Population Dynamics Through Use of Data from a Large-scale Historical Tagging Study

Principal Investigator: 

Michael Wilberg

Institution: 

Chesapeake Biological Laboratory, University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science

Co-Principal Investigator: 

Thomas Miller, Chesapeake Biological Laboratory, University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science; Amy Schueller, Beaufort Laboratory, National Marine Fisheries Service; Joseph Smith, Beaufort Laboratory, National Marine Fisheries Service

Summary: 

Atlantic menhaden (Brevoortia tyrannus) plays an important role in linking production from lower trophic levels to diverse marine predators and supporting the largest commercial fishery on the U.S. east coast. A significant management controversy has arisen because of uncertainties over their movement into and out of the Chesapeake Bay and the size or age-dependent vulnerability of fish to the commercial fishery. A landmark mark-recapture study of Atlantic menhaden was conducted during the 1960s–70s, which allows estimation of movement rates. Over one million menhaden were tagged, and over 200,000 tags were recovered, but the data were never fully analyzed. Using these data, this study will obtain estimates of migration rates and selectivity patterns, develop maps of the menhaden's range, and obtain estimates of the impact of the spatial distribution of the fishery on menhaden. These results will substantially improve our knowledge of menhaden population dynamics (migration and mortality rates), reduce uncertainty in estimates of stock status, and advance ecosystem-based management of the fishery.

Understanding the Complex Roles that Green Infrastructure Can Play in Improving the Resilience of Coastal Urban Zones

Principal Investigator: 

David Tilley

Institution: 

University of Maryland, College Park

Co-Principal Investigator: 

Rhea Thompson

Summary: 

Green infrastructure (GI), by relying on natural processes and energies for its ability to reduce flooding, decrease heat waves, enliven the local environment and provide ecological habitat, has the ability to increase the resilience of coastal communities and their environments, and adapt to climate change. New complexity metrics are needed to fully appreciate the multiple benefits GI has to offer, and this project looks to develop a model that integrates information theory with energy accounting to understand the role of GI in urban environments.

Understanding the Effectiveness of the Watershed Stewards Academies in Maryland

Principal Investigator: 

Dana Fisher

Institution: 

University of Maryland, College Park

Summary: 

Watershed Stewards Academies (WSAs) are part of a national movement to train citizens to become Master Watershed Stewards in their communities. In Maryland, they are based on a specific model of stewardship and are currently training environmental stewards in three regions of the state. This project employs a variety of social science research methods to study the local franchises of this organization and their connections to communities in Maryland. Integrating closed-ended survey and open-ended semi-structured interview research methods, this project will assess the experience of WSA participants, analyze how they connect to government offices, community groups, and individual volunteers, as well as determine the actual environmental effects of the Watershed Stewards Academies in each region.