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Scenes from The University of Rhode Island

Rhode Island Sea Grant to spend $6.5 million on research, outreach in state

Media Contact: Monica Allard Cox, 401-874-6937

Narragansett, R.I. -- February 16, 2004 -- The Rhode Island Sea Grant College Program at the University of Rhode Island (URI) will be spending nearly $6.5 million over the next two years on a variety of research and outreach projects in the state, thanks to a $4,125,000 grant from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and matching contributions.

Many of the research projects address human impacts on coastal areas, from increasing water temperatures to septic system contamination of watersheds. Researchers will study how water flows through coastal ponds and will determine the ecology of marshes to aid in their conservation. They will also examine the processes that lead to hypoxia—depleted oxygen in the water—in Narragansett Bay, and will examine longfin squid populations, an economically important species, to assist fisheries managers in better managing stocks. They will develop fishery models that improve understanding of fish populations in Georges Bank and elsewhere, and they will produce comprehensive maps and images of Narragansett Bay and adjacent coastal environments.

Outreach efforts will focus on improving the governance of coastal ecosystems, managing sustainable community growth, promoting the sustainable use of fisheries resources and stability of the seafood industry, and communicating those results to the public. New fisheries agreements will be implemented with the National Marine Fisheries Service and R.I. Department of Environmental Management, and partnerships between URI and Roger Williams University will continue to develop the new Rhode Island Sea Grant Legal Program and the Rhode Island Aquaculture Initiative.

"I'm especially pleased to see Rhode Island Sea Grant supporting new, multidisciplinary science and planning efforts that address Narragansett Bay as an ecosystem—its biology, geology, physical oceanography, and social systems, even its archeology," says Barry Costa-Pierce, Rhode Island Sea Grant director.

Sea Grant is a nationwide program that promotes the conservation and sustainable development of marine resources for the public benefit.

Following is more information on Sea Grant-funded research projects 2004-2006

Identification and analysis of multiple populations of longfin squid with respect to possible implications for management
Principal Investigator: William Macy, URI GSO marine scientist
Co-Principal Investigators: Edward Durbin, URI GSO oceanography professor; Roger Hanlon, Marine Biological Laboratory

The longfin squid is an economically important fishery in Rhode Island, but much remains unknown about squid biology, ecology, and life history. This project proposes to determine, through DNA fingerprinting and other analyses, whether the longfin squid population is divided into subgroups that are biologically distinct, and, if so, whether there is a dominant subgroup largely responsible for maintaining the overall population. This information will help fisheries managers determine if special techniques to protect that longfin stocks are required.

Riparian sinks for mitigating septic system contamination in urbanizing coastal watersheds
Principal Investigator: Arthur Gold, URI natural resources science professor
Co-Principal Investigators: Peter Groffman, Institute of Ecosystem Studies microbial ecologist; Mark Stolt, URI natural resources science associate professor

Increased population density, especially along waterways, coupled with failing or overtaxed septic systems introduces increased nitrates into coastal waters. Alteration of riparian areas (land on the banks of rivers or estuaries) can limit the ability of those areas to cleanse the water of nitrates. This project will develop maps that depict the groundwater and soil-based denitrification capacity of shoreline locations to help communities better control sources of nutrient pollution and to protect riparian zones shown to possess substantial denitrification capacity.

Temperature nutrient interactions in coastal lagoons: A mesocosm experiment
Principal Investigator: Scott Nixon, URI GSO oceanography professor
Co-Principal Investigators: Stephen Granger, URI GSO researcher; Betty Buckley, URI GSO researcher

The shallow coastal ecosystems of the U.S. Atlantic and Gulf coasts are undergoing important changes, one of which is increasing water temperature. This study will quantify the effects of exceptionally warm summers and long-term warming of coastal waters on the health and survival of eelgrass beds and habitat in the coastal lagoons of southern New England, using living models, known as mesocosms.

Hydrogeological characterization and groundwater flow patterns in southern Rhode Island and implications for coastal lagoons: Numerical simulations and field observations
Principal Investigator: S. Bradley Moran, URI GSO oceanography professor
Co-Principal Investigators: Peter Weiskel, U.S. Geological Survey supervisory hydrologist; John Masterson, U.S. Geological Survey hydrologist

This research partnership between URI and the U.S. Geological Survey will study groundwater flow into Rhode Island’s salt ponds. Data collected from mapping efforts and from radium isotope tracer-based monitoring will be used to create a groundwater flow model for the salt pond region.

Diminishing water quality in Rhode Island coastal waters: Understanding the physical, biological, and chemical processes that lead to seasonal hypoxia in upper Narragansett Bay
Principal Investigator: Mary-Lynn Dickson, URI GSO marine scientist
Co-Principal Investigators: David Ullman, URI GSO assistant marine research scientist; David Hebert, URI GSO oceanography professor; Chris Deacutis, Narragansett Bay Estuary Program scientific director

Recent observations show that, in the summertime, extensive portions of upper Narragansett Bay experience hypoxia—depleted oxygen in the water—which poses a significant threat to habitat quality and marine life in the Bay. This research will investigate the biological, chemical, and physical factors that govern the onset of episodes of hypoxia in upper Narragansett Bay in the summer.

Elucidating the ecology of brackish and tidal freshwater marshes for their conservation and management
Principal Investigator: Mark Bertness, Brown University biology professor
Co-Principal Investigator: Caitlin Mullan Crain, Brown University graduate student

Despite their importance as environmental filters and wildlife habitat, upriver brackish and tidal freshwater marshes may be the least studied or well understood of all common wetlands. They are also the wetland habitats most threatened by human development and population growth. This project will improve understanding of the ecology of brackish and tidal freshwater marshes. Researchers will then work with conservation groups to see that the findings are incorporated into the conservation and management of Atlantic coastal estuarine marshes.
Multispecies assessment models for fisheries management
Principal Investigator: Jeremy Collie, URI GSO oceanography professor

Fisheries managers need accurate estimates of fish populations and their growth rates in order to create equitable and effective management strategies. This project seeks to improve the reliability and usefulness of multispecies statistical models of fish populations by incorporating diet with other, traditional fisheries data sources.

BayMap: A proposal to image the seafloor, map and groundtruth the habitats, and document the cultural landscape of Narragansett Bay and Rhode Island and Connecticut coastal environments
Principal Investigators: John King, URI GSO oceanography professor; Jon Boothroyd, URI geosciences professor and state geologist; Kathryn Moran, URI ocean engineering associate professor; Roderick Mather URI history associate professor
Co-Principal Investigators: Robert Ballard1, Dwight Coleman1, Chris Damon1, Chris Deacutis2, John Jenson3, Rob Pockalny1, Sheldon Pratt1, William Turnbaugh1, Larry Mayer4
Affiliation: 1 URI; 2 R.I. Department of Environmental Management; 3Mystic Seaport; 4University of New Hampshire

This project will produce a comprehensive series of high-resolution seafloor maps and images of Narragansett Bay and adjacent Rhode Island and Connecticut coastal environments to create a complete picture of their geology, habitats, biological communities, and archaeology.

For more information: Barry Costa-Pierce (401) 874-6802