Maryland Sea Grant Funds New Projects to Study Chesapeake and Coastal Bays

July 20, 2016
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Maryland Sea Grant has awarded nine grants to scientists at Maryland research institutions for studies that could help improve and sustain coastal natural resources and help communities adapt to environmental changes.

The two-year awards will support research to advance knowledge about watershed restoration, the menhaden and oyster fisheries, and adaptation to sea level rise, among other priorities. These studies can provide information critical to implementing science-based management decisions.

Each project will receive an average of $70,000 annually for project costs and an additional 50-percent match from non-federal funding for an average annual total of $105,000. Federal funding for this new group of projects is part of a grant totaling $1.43-million in the 2016 fiscal year awarded to Maryland Sea Grant by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Sea Grant College Program from an appropriation provided by Congress. In addition to supporting research projects, the appropriation funds research fellowships for graduate students as well as a portion of Maryland Sea Grant’s extension, education, and outreach activities across the state. Maryland Sea Grant also receives funding from the State of Maryland.

These research projects will be led by experts from George Washington University, Montclair State University, Salisbury University, Smithsonian Environmental Research Center (SERC), University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science (UMCES), University of Maryland, College Park (UMCP), and Virginia Institute of Marine Science. The projects were selected through a peer-reviewed competition.

The project topics are:


Atmospheric nitrate:  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. Recent advances in the analysis of stable oxygen isotopes in streamwater nitrate provide an unparalleled opportunity to trace atmospheric nitrate and help account for its contributions to surface waters. (More details)

Investigators: principal investigator, David Nelson, co-principal investigators, Keith N. Eshleman, Cathlyn D. Stylinski, all at UMCES Appalachian Laboratory.


Coastal flooding: 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. (More details)

Investigators: principal investigator, Ming Li, UMCES Horn Point Laboratory, co-principal investigator, Xiaohong Wang, Salisbury University.


Menhaden: 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. (More details)

Investigators: principal investigator, Genevieve Nesslage, co-principal investigator, Michael J. Wilberg, both at the UMCES Chesapeake Biological Laboratory.


Nitrogen removal and low oxygen: 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. (More details)

Investigators: principal investigator, Lora A. Harris, co-principal investigator, Jeremy Testa, both at UMCES Chesapeake Biological Laboratory.


Oysters: 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. (More details)

Investigators: principal investigator, Seth Miller, co-principal investigator, Denise L. Breitburg, both at SERC.


Social science and climate change: 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. (More details)

Investigators: principal investigator, Michael Paolisso, co-principal investigators, Brian Needelman, Christina Prell, and Klaus Hubacek, all at UMCP. 


Septic systems: 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. (More details)

Investigators: principal investigator, Michael Gonsior, co-principal investigators, Lora A. Harris, Andrew Heyes, all at UMCES Chesapeake Biological Laboratory.


Submerged aquatic vegetation: 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. (More details)

Investigators: principal investigator, Katharina A. M. Engelhardt, UMCES Appalachian Laboratory, co-principal investigator, Maile C. Neel, UMCP.


Barrier islands: 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. (More details)

Investigators: principal investigators, Keryn Gedan, George Washington University,  Chris Hein, Virginia Institute of Marine Science, Sunny Jardine, University of Delaware, Jorge Lorenzo Trueba, Montclair State University.


For More Information

For more information about these new research projects, contact Michael Allen, Ph.D., Associate Director for Research and Administration at Maryland Sea Grant.

Maryland Sea Grant supports innovative marine research, education, and public outreach, primarily about the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries, to support a sustainable coastal environment and economy. Past research studies funded by Maryland Sea Grant have made significant, positive impacts on efforts to improve Maryland's environment and economy. Read more about our mission and our achievements.

— Jeffrey Brainard

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