NOAA Begins Funding Project to Develop Chesapeake, Delaware Bays Hypoxia Forecasting Models

October 23, 2007

NOAA has awarded $330,000 to the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science, in a five-year $1.8 million NOAA project to help resource managers analyze and predict how hypoxia, water quality, and fishery production respond to nutrient loading and climatic factors in Chesapeake Bay and Delaware inland bays.

“Areas of low dissolved oxygen — hypoxia — are an increasing threat to the health of our waterways," said John H. Dunnigan, NOAA’s assistant administrator for the National Ocean Service. "We hope this research on Chesapeake and Delaware Bay hypoxia issues will provide new insights into its stimulants, and how we, as coastal stewards, can better manage and mitigate its effects in coastal waters here and elsewhere.”

More than half of U.S. estuaries experience natural or human-induced hypoxia each year. The deep waters of the main Chesapeake Bay stem, as well as some shallow tributaries, become hypoxic every summer. Delaware Bay is a more shallow, well-mixed estuary which also experiences hypoxia, but for shorter periods than the Chesapeake Bay.

Hypoxia in aquatic systems refers to waters where the dissolved oxygen concentrations are below 25 percent of their capacity. Most organisms avoid or become stressed in waters with oxygen below these levels. While hypoxia can occur naturally, it is often a symptom of environments stressed by human impacts such as nutrient runoff from non-point sources of pollution. Fish kills, oyster die-offs and ecosystem shifts, such as increases in jellyfish, have been attributed to low dissolved oxygen stress as well as changes in climate.

The research team, led by University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science, includes ecologists, oceanographers, and modelers. The team, along with state and federal management agencies, including the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, NOAA, Maryland Department of Natural Resources, and Delaware Natural Resources and Environmental Control, will give its findings to Bay resource managers. Researchers with University of Delaware and Dalhousie University will also participate.

NOAA’s Center for Sponsored Coastal Ocean Research (CSCOR) Coastal Hypoxia Research Program provides research and modeling tools used by coastal resource managers to assess alternatives for preventing or lessening the effects of hypoxia on coastal ecosystems. These include determining the causes of hypoxia, developing the capability to predict its occurrence in response to varying levels of anthropogenic stress, and evaluating the subsequent ecological, economic, and social impacts. CSCOR provided $10 million in competitive grants in 2007.

In 2007 NOAA, an agency of the U.S. Commerce Department, celebrates 200 years of science and service to the nation. From the establishment of the Survey of the Coast in 1807 by Thomas Jefferson to the formation of the Weather Bureau and the Bureau of Commercial Fisheries in the 1870’s, much of America's scientific heritage is rooted in NOAA.

NOAA is dedicated to enhancing economic security and national safety through the prediction and research of weather and climate-related events and information service delivery for transportation, and by providing environmental stewardship of our nation's coastal and marine resources. Through the emerging Global Earth Observation System of Systems (GEOSS), NOAA is working with its federal partners, more than 70 countries and the European Commission to develop a global monitoring network that is as integrated as the planet it observes, predicts and protects.