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Project Overview

Statement of Problem



Project Tasks and Activities

Statement of Problem

Eastern U.S. estuaries have common environmental problems: degraded water quality, loss of wetlands and riparian zones, sea-level rise, sedimentation, coastal erosion, declining fish and wildlife populations, loss of sub-aquatic vegetation (SAV) and increased algal blooms. Population growth, urban sprawl, intensified agriculture, and climate change exacerbate these. Mitigation of estuarine issues requires understanding of ecological, physical, and chemical changes due to climate variability and anthropogenic factors, the influence of regional geological framework, and impacts of land-use changes in watersheds and coastal zones. This project provides a scientific basis for resource managers and other policy-makers to address these issues. The initial work was in Chesapeake Bay, and eventually it will shift to other mid-Atlantic estuaries (possibly including, but not limited to, Albemarle and Pamlico Sounds, Chicoteague, and Delaware Bay) and apply techniques developed in Chesapeake Bay to issues in those estuaries.


  • Integrate studies on a wide range of time scales (subannual to millennial) to:
    • Establish the geologic framework for the estuarine system and its watershed.
    • Evaluate impacts of land-use changes on estuarine ecosystems through comparison of baseline (pre-Colonial) and post-Colonial rates, volumes, and extent of sediment/nutrient erosion, transport, and deposition.
    • Evaluate ecosystem response to past climate changes. The impacts of past and future climate change must be incorporated into any long-term management strategies to achieve sustainable goals. For example, increased precipitation associated with broad-scale climatic change will increase sediment and nutrient influx to estuaries, requiring changes to best management practices designed for present precipitation levels.
    • Identify modern centers of deposition and sediment sources (biogenic, shoreline erosion, oceanic).
    • Convey information to resource managers and policy-makers to develop restoration and preservation strategies and make land-use decisions concerning environmental change.



    • Examine past records of physical, biological, and landscape changes in response to climatic and human-mediated forces;
    • Monitor some of these changes today, including emerging human health risks, and compare observations of modern processes with the records of past changes;
    • Integrate the knowledge gained from specific project tasks to forecast future ecologic response to land-use changes under likely climatic and demographic conditions for time scales relevant to resource management decisions.

U.S. Department of the Interior, U.S. Geological Survey
Maintained by Melissa Berke
Last modified: 10:50:42 Thu 25 Mar 2004
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