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.

Determining the Resiliency of Juvenile Oysters to Estuarine Stressors and Climate Change: Implications for Restoration and Aquaculture Programs

Principal Investigator: 

Seth Miller

Institution: 

Smithsonian Environmental Research Center

Co-Principal Investigator: 

Denise L. Breitburg, Smithsonian Environmental Research Center

Summary: 

Acidification due to excessive respiration resulting from eutrophication as well as increasing atmospheric CO2 is predicted to have dramatic negative effects on the eastern oyster, Crassostrea virginica, a species of high economic, ecological, and cultural importance in Maryland. Initial studies have shown that oysters are negatively affected over the short term by severe acidification, but investigations of the long-term responses to acidification are lacking.

Development of a Bayesian Approach for Estimating Ecosystem-based Reference Points for Atlantic Menhaden

Principal Investigator: 

Genevieve Nesslage

Institution: 

Chesapeake Biological Laboratory, University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science

Co-Principal Investigator: 

Michael J. Wilberg, Chesapeake Biological Laboratory, University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science

Summary: 

Atlantic menhaden (Brevoortia tyrannus) play a vital role in Chesapeake Bay and Mid-Atlantic marine ecosystems by providing forage for recreationally important piscivorous fishes while also supporting the largest commercial fishery by volume on the US Atlantic Coast. Recognizing the importance of forage fish such as menhaden to marine ecosystems, fisheries managers have set a goal of adopting ecosystem-based reference points for menhaden that account for the forage services menhaden provide.

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. 

Improving Prediction and Visualization of Coastal Inundation on the Eastern Shore of Maryland

Principal Investigator: 

Ming Li

Institution: 

Horn Point Laboratory, University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science

Co-Principal Investigator: 

Xiaohong Wang, Salisbury University

Summary: 

Climate change, sea level rise, and associated storms are putting Maryland's people, property, natural resources, and public investments at risk. This project is directed at assessing the impacts of long-term sea level rise and episodic storm surges on the low-lying lands of Maryland's Eastern Shore at 2050 and 2100. Coastal inundation risks due to climate change are usually evaluated by simple linear additions of sea level rise, tidal ranges and storm surges.

Integrated Geospatial, Cultural, and Social Assessment of Coastal Resilience to Climate Change

Principal Investigator: 

Michael Paolisso

Institution: 

University of Maryland, College Park

Co-Principal Investigator: 

Brian Needelman, University of Maryland, Department of Environmental Science and Technology; Christina Prell, University of Maryland, Department of Sociology; Klaus Hubacek, University of Maryland, Department of Geographical Sciences

Summary: 

Limited exchange occurs between science researchers implementing traditional coastal resilience assessments and social scientists engaged in research on vulnerability and resilience of communities to climate change impacts. Better integration of geospatial and modeling data with social science knowledge has the potential to reveal critical decision points leading to more resilient communities, economies and ecosystems.

Managing for Biodiversity and Blue Carbon in the Face of Sea-level Rise and Barrier Island Migration

Principal Investigator: 

Keryn Gedan

Institution: 

George Washington University

Co-Principal Investigator: 

Chris Hein, Virginia Institute of Marine Science; Sunny Jardine, University of Delaware, School of Marine Science and Policy; Jorge Lorenzo Trueba, Montclair State University, Earth and Environmental Studies

Summary: 

Barrier islands serve as buffers between the coastal ocean and mainland agricultural lands, human population centers, and infrastructure and protect these investments from devastating storm impacts. The marshes, bays, lagoons and tidal flats behind these barriers support a high degree of biodiversity and also provide other ecosystem services including blue carbon storage.

Quantifying Changes to Nutrient Cycling and Nitrogen Removal in an Estuary as a Consequence of Aeration

Principal Investigator: 

Lora A. Harris

Institution: 

Chesapeake Biological Laboratory, University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science

Co-Principal Investigator: 

Jeremy Testa, Chesapeake Biological Laboratory, University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science

Summary: 

The upcoming mid-point assessment for the Chesapeake TMDL slated for 2017 will be aided by research and quantitative tools to interpret progress made to date, and anticipated response by 2025.

Resilience of Vallisneria americana in the Chesapeake Bay

Principal Investigator: 

Katharina A. M. Engelhardt

Institution: 

Appalachian Laboratory, University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science

Co-Principal Investigator: 

Maile C. Neel, University of Maryland, College Park, Department of Plant Science and Landscape Architecture

Summary: 

Past catastrophic declines of submersed aquatic vegetation (SAV) in the Chesapeake Bay (CB) have reduced habitat extent and compromised the ability of SAV beds to resist environmental change or recover after a disturbance. As a result, many SAV beds are small and ephemeral with diminished capacity to function as sediment filters, shoreline buffers, and habitat for fish and shellfish. The objective of this study is to contribute to management solutions that enhance the resilience of SAV beds in the CB.

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. 

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. 

Tracking Septic System Performance by Using Innovative Mass Spectrometric Approaches and Traditional Nutrient Measurements

Principal Investigator: 

Michael Gonsior

Institution: 

Chesapeake Biological Laboratory, University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science

Co-Principal Investigator: 

Lora A. Harris, Chesapeake Biological Laboratory, University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science; Andrew Heyes, Chesapeake Biological Laboratory, University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science

Summary: 

Watershed implementation plans (WIPs) require the development of management actions for a diversity of nitrogen (N) sources. Atmospheric, agricultural and septic system inputs interacting with land-use define how each nonpoint source contributes to the total N load and the load of each nitrogen form.

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.

Variation in Retention and Export of Atmospheric Nitrate as a Function of Land Use Across the Chesapeake Bay Watershed

Principal Investigator: 

David Nelson

Institution: 

Appalachian Laboratory, University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science

Co-Principal Investigator: 

Keith N. Eshleman, Appalachian Laboratory, University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science; Cathlyn D. Stylinski, Appalachian Laboratory, University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science

Summary: 

Riverine nitrogen(N) export has decreased in forested and mixed land-use watersheds of the Chesapeake Bay (CB) in recent decades, but the factors driving these water-quality improvements are uncertain. This knowledge gap impedes the development of science-based strategies to project future changes in water quality. One factor that may explain these trends is reduced atmospheric N deposition, but existing data cannot address this hypothesis.