The University of Delaware Sea Grant College Program has been awarded more than $3 million to conduct 24 marine research and education projects critical to Delaware and the Mid-Atlantic region
over the next year. The grant includes $1.33 million from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) in the U.S. Department of Commerce and nearly $1.75 million in matching funds from the State of Delaware, the University, and other sources.
In 1976, the University of Delaware was designated the ninth Sea Grant College in the United States. Today, there are 30 Sea Grant programs based at academic institutions in coastal states across the nation.
“Our mission is to conduct exemplary research and educational activities that will contribute to the wise use, conservation, and management of marine and coastal resources,” said Dr. Carolyn A. Thoroughgood, dean of the UD College of Marine Studies and director of the Sea Grant College Program.
“During the next year, our Sea Grant program will be addressing critical issues facing Delaware, including beach erosion, the water quality of the Delaware Bay and the Inland Bays, and the health of fisheries resources ranging from horseshoe crabs to weakfish,” she said. “We also will be developing new techniques for monitoring bays and marshes using satellites and other tools, as well as conducting research in the burgeoning field of marine biotechnology. Complementing our research will be a strong public education program advanced by our Marine Advisory Service and Marine Communications staffs.”
Currently, the program is targeting five major research areas: Coastal Ocean Studies, Environmental Technology, Coastal Engineering, Marine Biotechnology, and Fisheries.
In Coastal Ocean Studies, oceanographer Jonathan Sharp will complete a comparative study of dissolved oxygen conditions in the urbanized Delaware River and the more biologically active lower bay to sort out the factors that control the estuary’s oxygen levels. This research will aid major municipalities such as Philadelphia in setting new water-quality guidelines for wastewater inputs to the Delaware River.
He also will examine how microorganisms respond to varying levels of nutrient inputs along the changing salinity gradient in the Delaware Bay. This research is designed to provide needed information on the process of eutrophication, or nutrient over-enrichment. In eutrophic systems, nutrient levels are so high they are harmful to aquatic life. This research will be conducted in cooperation with resource managers at the Delaware National Estuarine Research Reserve on the St. Jones River.
Using geophysical surveying and sediment-coring techniques, geologists Christopher Sommerfield and John Madsen will map and analyze the seafloor of the Delaware River and Bay between the Delaware Memorial Bridge and Ship John Shoal. Their goal is to understand the natural and human factors that influence sedimentation and erosion in the estuary. In the process, they will develop the first comprehensive database of the estuary’s geology for use by resource managers, engineers, and scientists.
Scientists Bill Ullman, Doug Miller, and John Madsen will continue to investigate the impact of groundwater “seeps” — areas along the coast where fresh water is seeping out of the ground and into the salty bay or ocean. They will examine the geochemistry and biology of two seepage sites: one in the Delaware Bay along Cape Henlopen and one in the Inland Bays along Herring Creek.
In other efforts, physical oceanographer Kuo-Chuin Wong will continue working to reveal how gravity, wind, and tides affect the flow of pollutants through Rehoboth and Indian River bays, which are suffering from an overload of nutrients. And botanists Jack Gallagher and Denise Seliskar will continue their research to develop a method for blocking the re-invasion of the common reed, Phragmites, into marshes that have been sprayed and burned to clear them of the nuisance plant. The scientists are evaluating marsh plants found in nature, as well as plants they have cultured in the lab, for their ability to form a natural barrier to Phragmites. The project is co-funded by Public Service Enterprise Group (PSEG) as part of PSEG Nuclear’s Estuary Enhancement Program.
In Environmental Technology, an interdisciplinary team of physical oceanographers and engineers, including Mohsen Badiey, Kuo-Chuin Wong, Alexander Cheng, and Yonke Mu, will explore the feasibility of using lighthouses in the Delaware Bay as remote-controlled field stations for gathering long-term weather, tide, and current data.
Chemist George Luther has invented a novel probe that can be inserted into seawater, sediments, and even above hydrothermal vents to provide instantaneous readings of a number of chemical compounds. He will now adapt the probe for several new applications, including testing the sulfide levels in lagoons along the Inland Bays where major fish kills have occurred.
Two new projects, led by scientists Vic Klemas and Xiao-Hai Yan, and involving Richard Field, Bill Hall, and Quanan Zheng, will focus on developing new satellite-based techniques for monitoring the Delaware Bay and its adjacent wetlands. The scientists will be using data from sophisticated new satellite sensors that can yield high-resolution images of the coast on the scale of 1–4 meters.
Coastal Engineering efforts will focus on developing accurate models for predicting shoreline erosion and for providing reliable estimates of wave conditions in navigable inlets. Leaders of the four complementary projects include Robert Dalrymple, Jim Kirby, Nobuhisa Kobayashi, and Ib Svendsen. Their research will be conducted in the wave tanks and computer laboratories at the UD Center for Applied Coastal Research.
In Marine Biotechnology research, marine biologist David Kirchman will continue to investigate the impact of toxic compounds called polyaromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) on the Delaware River’s microbial community. PAHs originate from tar, wood preservatives, and oil and other fossil fuels. Kirchman is working to find out which microbes can detoxify PAHs and how rapidly. This information will be useful in determining the best method of bioremediation for industrial sites along the river such as the Philadelphia Naval Shipyard.
Oceanographer David Hutchins and marine biologist Craig Cary will design molecular probes to detect brown tide in coastal waters. While harmless to humans, brown tide is a microscopic plant that can bloom to devastating proportions, forming a thick mat of vegetation impenetrable by sunlight. This mat can “shade out” underwater life, disrupting an estuary’s entire biological community.
In Fisheries research, marine biologist Charles Epifanio and physical oceanographer Richard Garvine will continue working to determine the effect of natural circulation processes on the early life stages of the blue crab, the region’s most economically important fishery. In previous research, the scientists were the first to track patches of crab larvae in “real time” using satellite drifters. They will now work to refine a predictive model simulating how and where the young crabs are transported under certain weather conditions.
To reduce fishing pressure on the horseshoe crab, which is used as bait for eels and conch, scientist Nancy Targett will continue working to develop an artificial horseshoe crab bait. While the largest number of horseshoe crabs lives in Delaware Bay, the population appears to be declining. Horseshoe crabs play a vital role in the bay’s ecology and in human health. Their eggs feed thousands of migrating shorebirds each spring. Their blood, removed harmlessly, contains a compound used to test intravenous drugs and prosthetics such as heart valves for bacterial contamination.
In collaboration with scientists from North Carolina State University and Louisiana State University, fishery biologist Tim Targett will conduct experiments to assess the impact of hypoxia, or chronic low oxygen levels, on the feeding, growth, and behavior of juvenile summer flounder, weakfish, spot, and Atlantic menhaden. The data then will be incorporated into a simulation model to predict how changes in water quality in estuarine nursery grounds affect the growth and production of young fish. The tool will be used to help resource managers protect nursery grounds for major fisheries.
In other regional research, marine biologist Patrick Gaffney will continue working to develop a tool for evaluating oyster stock enhancement or “outplanting” efforts in the Chesapeake Bay. Previously, he discovered a genetic marker that is passed on to the offspring produced by outplanted oysters. He’s now perfecting a genetic technique for rapidly screening baby oysters, or spat, to determine the success of stock enhancement programs.
A significant public education program will continue to be advanced by the Sea Grant Marine Advisory Service (MAS) based at the UD Lewes campus and by the Marine Communications Office on the Newark campus. Efforts are under way in seafood technology, coastal processes, aquaculture, resource management, recreation and tourism, and K–12 education. The staff develop educational projects ranging from publications and on-line research expeditions, to the SeaTalk radio series and the award-winning Coast Day festival.
For more information, contact the Marine Communications Office at (302) 831-8083, or visit the program’s Web site at www.ocean.udel.edu/seagrant.