data projects


CISNet is an interagency effort between EPA, NOAA, and NASA to develop an intensive coastal site network of monitoring and research stations throughout the United States.  Many of these facilities, as well as academic research stations, will be used as outdoor laboratories.

CISNet has three objectives:

  • To develop a sound scientific basis for understanding ecological responses to anthropogenic stresses in coastal environments, including the interaction of exposure, environment/climate, and biological/ecological factors in the response, and the spatial and temporal nature of these interactions.
  • To demonstrate the usefulness of a set of intensively-monitored sites for examining short-term variability in long-term trend behavior in the relationships between changes in environmental stressors, including anthropogenic and natural stresses, and ecological response.
  • To provide intensively-monitored sites for development and evaluation of indicaators of change in coastal systems.

The sites have been chosen for the network based on:
a location linked to process-level research programs and ongoing monitoring programs; a location near supporting governmental laboratories or parklands with well-equipped facilities for monitoring and research; a long-term history and future commitment to recording data are available; and the likelihoood that this monitoring information will contribute substantially to the environmental decision-making process. 

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The Rhode River CISNet: Estuarine Optical Properties as an Integrative Response to Natural and Anthropogenic Stressors

Coastal ecosystems are impacted by a wide range of anthropogenic and natural stressors that vary tremendously from site to site. Natural variability in ecological characteristics of widely distributed coastal ecosystems translates directly to similar variability in response to stresses. In spite of such geographic variability, many of the stresses that are common to all regions result in characteristic changes in the spectral attenuation of light underwater. The penetration of light underwater and its spectrum are determined by the concentrations of suspended particulate matter (SPM), phytoplankton chlorophyll (Chl), and colored dissolved organic matter (CDOM). These three parameters integrate a system's response to a wide range of stressors, both natural and anthropogenic. We propose to utilize advances in monitoring of estuarine spectral optical properties to develop the capability to continuously monitor concentrations of optically active parameters as an integrated measure of estuarine response to perturbations on time scales ranging from individual storms or phytoplankton blooms, to seasonal, to decadal or longer responses to increased disturbance or to management efforts.

Our approach is to supplement ongoing measurements of nutrient fluxes from the watershed with automated instruments to measure water exchanges throughout the Rhode River subestuary, and to monitor spectral absorption and scattering coefficients at a centrally located site. Research to interpret the monitored data and to utilize it to improve the environmental decision-making process will be focused in the following three areas:

  • research to interpret light spectra in terms of the concentrations of SPM, Chl, and CDOM
  • manipulative experiments to establish the response of in situ concentrations of chlorophyll, DOC and SPM to inputs of nutrients (both watershed discharge and atmospheric deposition) and particulate matter on event- to interannual time scales.
  • process-level research to examine the effects of solar UV (and especially UV-B) radiation on nearshore plankton communities, as influenced by estuarine optical properties

Products of the research will include a monitoring system and interpretive algorithms for documenting event-scale, seasonal, and long-term changes in SPM, Chl, and CDOM--three parameters that gauge many facets of the health of estuaries everywhere.  This transportable capability to measure and interpret water column optical properties will provide valuable sea-truth data for remote sensing programs wherever implemented.

Process-level research will improve the environmental decision-making process, by establishing comparative mechanisms by which nutrient inputs by watershed discharge and precipitation affect trophic structure of an estuary, resulting in measurable and interpretable variations in estuarine optical properties on multiple time scales.  Additional process-level research will provide predictive capability for evaluating the impact of UV-B irradiance, as any such influence in coastal and estuarine systems will be modulated by interaction with water column optical properties. 

The research will be conducted at the Rhode River, Maryland, a tributary embayment on the western shore of Chesapeake Bay.  The site includes an array of ecosystems comprising a landscape of coastal plain forests in varying successsional stages, agricultural fields, fresh and brackish water wetlands, and marshes, and open estuarine waters.  Basic physical and chemical parameters and selected popluations have been monitored at the site since the early 1970's.

For more information, contact Dr. Charles Gallegos.

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