URI Oceanographers Track Changes in Narragansett Bay

Narragansett, RI–July 14, 1999–As part of a statewide, multi-disciplinary program to improve monitoring of Narragansett Bay, scientists at the URI Graduate School of Oceanography (GSO), led by chemical oceanographer Dana Kester of Narragansett, have placed two instrumented buoys in the bay to measure the changes in water properties and the overall health of the bay. The buoys measure seawater temperature, salinity, oxygen content, pH, tide height, and chlorophyll content. Powered by batteries that are re-charged using solar panels, the buoys take measurements automatically every 15 minutes and transmit their data each day to a computer at GSO by a cellular telephone link. One buoy is located in the upper bay south of Rocky Point, and the other buoy is located in the mid-bay east of Quonset Point. Measurements have been made day and night for approximately two weeks. Assisted by GSO research scientist Wendy Woods of Jamestown and undergraduate student Becky Eggiman of Narragansett, Kester plans to continue the measurements throughout the year. The data will be used in research studies to better understand the physical, chemical, and biological processes that occur in the bay and will also be useful for a number of local marine environmental management issues. “We are able to see the effects on the ecosystem of specific natural processes,” said Kester. “For example, on July 2 when we had a period of high winds, the waters were totally mixed from top to bottom. During the hot weather over the Fourth of July weekend, the phytoplankton (microscopic plants that drift in the waters) used the nutrients that were stirred up by the windy weather and grew rapidly, producing large amounts of oxygen in the surface waters of the bay. As the bay became stratified with warm less saline water over colder saline waters, the animals and micro-organisms in the bottom waters began to deplete the oxygen near the seafloor. During the past week we have also seen an intrusion of bottom waters enter the bay from Rhode Island Sound. This can play an important role in fisheries in the bay.” Funding for the buoys was provided by a grant from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Other agencies and institutions involved in this project to better understand the bay’s processes and how they are affected by human activity include NOAA’s National Marine Fisheries Service laboratory in Narragansett, Roger Williams University, the Narragansett Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve on Prudence Island, and the RI Department of Environmental Management. x-x-x For Information: Lisa Cugini, 874-6642; lcugini@gso.uri.edu