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Estuarine and Great Lakes (EaGLe) Coastal Initiative

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Estuarine and Great Lakes (EaGLe)
Coastal Initiative

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The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), through its Science To Achieve Results (STAR) competitive grants research program, has established five regional Estuarine & Great Lakes (EaGLe) research centers at major academic research institutions with strong expertise in coastal environmental science. Additionally, NASA is supporting associated remote sensing research at three of these institutions.

The researchers at these five regional centers are developing the next generation of environmental indicators to assess the biological health of the Great Lakes coast and estuaries and wetlands along the Atlantic, Pacific and Gulf coasts. Indicators evaluated and developed by the EaGLe centers will be used by the states in their long-term monitoring programs to establish the integrity and sustainability of the nation's coastal ecosystems.

Relationship to other EPA programs:

The STAR EaGLe Program is the extramural component of EPA's Environmental Monitoring and Assessment Program (EMAP). EMAP's goal is to develop the scientific understanding for translating environmental monitoring data from multiple spatial and temporal scales into assessments of ecological condition and forecasts of the future risks to the sustainability of our natural resources. EMAP will transfer the approaches and technology developed by the EaGLe centers to the states, which are responsible for water quality monitoring under the Clean Water Act. For further information, visit the EPA's EaGLe website or contact Barbara Levinson at EPA's National Center for Environmental Research (NCER). Phone (202)343-9720 or .

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Great Lakes Environmental Indicators (GLEI) Project

The Great Lakes Environmental Indicators (GLEI) project is developing and testing a suite of indicators across the range of habitats that make up the Great Lakes coastal margins. The following indicator types will be tested for their efficacy and technical soundness within three subcategories: 1) the basin as a whole: climate measures, land uses, and landscape characteristics; 2) estuaries, bays and coastal margin waters: water quality, contaminant levels, and the relative abundances of amphibian, bird, diatom, fish, macroinvertebrate and plant species and communities, and 3) the land margins: measures of bird community structure. Each of these indicator types has linkages with habitat condition measures and other stressors.

This work will be coordinated with such resource management and assessment programs as the binational State of the Lakes Ecosystem Conference (SOLEC) and individual U.S. state programs under the Clean Water Act. To promote effective communication and interaction with management agencies, this project will coordinate with EPA's relevant research and development laboratories for the region, and will work closely with the Great Lakes Sea Grant network.

GLEI is led by the Natural Resources Research Institute at the University of Minnesota Duluth (UMD). Other cooperators include the following: the University of Minnesota Twin Cities; Minnesota Sea Grant; the University of Wisconsin Green Bay; the University of Wisconsin Madison; Cornell University, New York; John Carroll University, Ohio; the University of Michigan; the University of Windsor, Ontario; and the US EPA Mid-Continent Ecology Division, Duluth, Minnesota, and Grosse Ile, Michigan. STAR grant R828675.

Project website

Atlantic Coast Environmental Indicators Consortium (ACE INC)

The Atlantic Coast Environmental Indicators Consortium (ACE INC) selected four ecologically and hydrologically diverse estuarine ecosystems to develop and evaluate ecologically meaningful and broadly applicable indicators of estuarine and coastal water quality health. The four estuarine systems include the nation's two largest estuarine complexes, the Chesapeake Bay and Albelmarle-Pamlico Sound, as well as a small riverine estuary in Massachusetts and a small bar-built estuary in South Carolina. The key indicators of interest are those that reflect attributes of estuarine systems, i.e., primary production, phytoplankton and higher plant (marsh and seagrass) biomass and composition, zooplankton and fish community structure, dissolved oxygen, and estuarine circulation.

These indicators are being tested for their applicability across estuaries with different primary producer bases, different bio-geographic provinces, and similar and contrasting chemistry, circulation, and different freshwater flows and flushing times. In addition, each of the systems has been impacted in varying degrees by humans, thus affording the opportunity to test the indicators' ability to detect and differentiate between human and natural stresses, including hurricanes, flooding and changes in sea level.

Another feature of the ACE research is the application of calibrated and ground-truthed remote sensing and real-time observing system data. This information will provide not only a regional or coast-wide context but also provide the ability for rapid detection and quantification of trends in coastal health.

The Consortium is led by the University of North Carolina (UNC) at Chapel Hill. The other institutions in the Consortium are the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science, the University of South Carolina, the Marine Biological Laboratory at Woods Hole, Massachusetts, and in a federal collaboration role, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Beaufort Laboratory. STAR grant R828677.

Project website

Atlantic Slope Consortium (ASC)

Emphasis within the Atlantic Slope Consortium is being placed on developing and testing indicators and constructing models that link conditions in upstream watersheds to downstream estuaries. Upstream components of a watershed encompass stream reaches, riparian corridors, wetlands, and waterbodies and the contributing drainage basins. This approach is based on the premise that coasts, estuaries, rivers, streams, lakes and wetlands must be viewed as an integrated system. The Consortium is researching the applicability of aquatic indicators, such as nutrient and sediment discharges, the spatial distribution of engineered structures and optical properties of estuarine waters across the spectrum of environments from best attainable to severely degraded.

A suite of socioeconomic indicators, including education level and membership in environmentally active associations, is also being evaluated. Information on socioeconomic indicators can be useful in interpreting stakeholders attitudes on environmental risks, understanding institutional and jurisdictional obstacles to change, and communicating environmental information in a meaningful way. The development of socioeconomic indicators builds on work already done in the Mid-Atlantic Region under other EPA programs such as the STAR Program on Decision Making and Valuation, the EPA/State Mid-Atlantic Integrated Assessment and the EPA Regional Vulnerability Assessment (ReVA) program. The socioeconomic data available to the Consortium includes that on income, employment, health, education level, crime, water supplies and wastewater treatment facilities.

ASC is led by Pennsylvania State University. The other institutions in the consortium are the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center, the Virginia Institute of Marine Sciences, East Carolina University, the Environmental Law Institute and FTN Associates. The geographic extent of the research is the Atlantic slope region, extending from the Appalachian Mountains to the Atlantic Ocean. This area consists of three major drainage basins, the Delaware, the Susquehanna-Chesapeake and the Albemarle-Pamlico. STAR grant R828684.

Project website

Consortium for Estuarine Ecoindicator Research for the Gulf of Mexico

The primary objective of CEER-GOM is to study and validate indicators of estuarine condition at four levels of biological complexity: the organism, population, community and ecosystem/watershed. As examples, at the organism level molecular indicators of dissolved oxygen (DO) stress will be developed as predictive indicators of reduced fitness (molting and reproduction). At the community level microbial biofilms and macrobenthic communities will be studied as indicators of ecosystem integrity, resilience and function. At the ecosystem/watershed scale remote sensing will be used to analyze the spatio-temporal patterns of ecosystem parameters such as landscape metrics, chlorophyll, surface water temperature and turbidity. Ultimately an Index of Estuarine Ecosystem Integrity (IEEI) will be developed and validated. The IEEI will be transferred to the states for use in long-term monitoring of estuarine conditions.

The CEER-GOM will be working with coastal managers from the 5 Gulf states to assure the relevancy of their research and assist in the incorporation of the results of the research into state monitoring programs.

The University of Southern Mississippi College of Marine Sciences is leading the Consortium for Estuarine Ecoindicator Research for the Gulf of Mexico (CEER-GOM). The other members of the Consortium are the University of West Florida, Florida State University, the University of Florida, the University of Alabama, Louisiana State University, Southeastern Louisiana University, the University of Texas Marine Sciences Institute, and the University of Washington. STAR grant R829458.

Project website

Pacific Estuarine Ecosystem Indicator Research (PEEIR) Consortium

The overarching goal of PEEIR is to develop indicators of wetland ecosystem integrity and propose an approach for synthesizing indicators in assessments of wetland health along the Pacific coast. Because traditional ecosystem sampling, chemical analyses, and toxicity testing are not adequate to address responses to multiple stressors in wetland ecosystems, new indicators for specific plant, fish, and invertebrate population health, as well as indicators of toxicant-induced stress and bioavailability for wetland biota, are being developed. Specific local problems, including wetland degradation and fish declines in San Francisco Bay and in Southern California, mercury contamination in Tomales Bay, invasions by exotic species, and pesticide contamination in Northern and Southern California watersheds will be addressed using these biological indicators.

The remote sensing component seeks to establish landscape-level indicators of environmental stresses that can be routinely measured from airborne or spaceborne platforms. This approach will take advantage of the newer high spatial/spectral resolution instruments that are now available to better assess spatiotemporal aspects of ecosystem functioning.

Other federal and local programs will benefit from this research. Federal programs include the CALFED program concerned with management of water resources in the San Francisco Bay and the upstream Sacramento/San Joaquin systems, and the western component of EMAP. Local programs, as mentioned above, will also benefit.

The Pacific Estuarine Ecosystem Indicator Research (PEEIR) Consortium is led by the Bodega Marine Laboratory of the University of California at Davis, in partnership with the University of California at Santa Barbara. Collaborators include the University of Georgia, The Bay Institute, and the San Francisco Estuary Institute. STAR grant R828676.

Project website


Supported by

STAR grants

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