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: 

Researchers will examine how Eastern oysters (Crassostrea virginica) respond to acidification of Chesapeake Bay waters caused by climate change and to low-oxygen (hypoxic) conditions. Understanding these responses is important to ensure success in efforts to restore the Bay’s wild oyster population and expand oyster aquaculture.

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: 

Researchers will develop computer models to simulate the impacts of long-term sea level rise and episodic storm surges on the low-lying lands of Maryland's Eastern Shore in 2050 and 2100. The project will utilize web-based graphics to help communities to better understand risks of coastal flooding to people and property at street-level detail.

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: 

Social scientists will collaborate with a wetlands ecologist to improve assessments of communities’ vulnerabilities to climate change and to help communities develop strategies to adapt. 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: 

This regional project funded by the Delaware, Maryland, New Jersey, and Virginia Sea Grant programs will provide insight into best practices for stabilizing barrier islands and conserving tidal marshes behind them in ways that preserve biodiversity and beach width as well as stores of carbon that are naturally sequestered in marshes. Areas to be studied include Parramore and Assawoman islands in Virginia; Fenwick/Assateague Island in Maryland and Delaware; and Long Beach Island in New Jersey.

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: 

Researchers will investigate the effects of low oxygen (hypoxic) conditions on natural processes that remove excess nitrogen from the Chesapeake Bay.  The researchers will use a large-scale, engineered aeration system in Rock Creek to experimentally reduce dissolved oxygen in bottom waters by turning off the aeration. This research may inform estimates of how quickly water quality in the Chesapeake will improve as nutrient loads are reduced.

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: 

In the Chesapeake Bay, many beds of underwater grasses are small and transient, which makes it difficult for them to recover from environmental stress and disturbances. This study will examine the species Vallisneria americana (commonly called wild celery) to learn how the extent and proximity of these grass beds are related to the genetic and functional characteristics of the plants living there and in turn how these traits affect the beds’ long-term growth and survival. The study is intended to help natural resource managers restore submerged aquatic vegetation in the Bay. 

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: 

Scientists will examine whether technology used in newer septic systems is more effective than older septic systems are at reducing nitrogen loads and improving water quality in the Chesapeake Bay. The project will seek to identify unique organic tracers that are specific to septic-system effluent and use them to track the effluent as it travels far from septic systems and into streams and groundwater. It is anticipated this project will improve understanding of septic system contribution to excess nutrients in the Chesapeake Bay. This information could help municipalities understand how best to achieve their Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) targets for water quality in the estuary.

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.