The University of Delaware Sea Grant College Program will receive over $1.3 million a year for the next two years from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to conduct marine research and education projects critical to Delaware and the Mid-Atlantic region. The federal grant will be matched by more than $1.3 million each year from the State of Delaware, the University, and other sources.
“Since the University of Delaware was designated the nation’s ninth Sea Grant College in 1976, our mission has been to conduct exemplary research and educational activities that will contribute to the wise use, conservation, and management of the state’s marine and coastal resources,” said Dr. Carolyn Thoroughgood, director of the program and dean of the College of Marine Studies.
Every U.S. state with an ocean or Great Lakes shoreline has a Sea Grant program, which is a partnership involving the federal government, state government, and academic institutions. The program integrates research and public education efforts to address major issues facing America’s coasts.
During the next two years, scientists and outreach staff based at the University of Delaware will conduct 23 Sea Grant projects in the following priority areas: Coastal Ocean Studies, Coastal Engineering, Environmental Technology, Marine Biotechnology, Fisheries, and Education.
In Coastal Ocean Studies, oceanographers William Ullman and Douglas Miller will continue their research to assess the impact of groundwater seeps on the water quality and biology of the Delaware Bay and Delaware’s Inland Bays (Rehoboth, Indian River, and Little Assawoman bays). Besides discharging fresh water, these seeps also can transport a significant quantity of nutrients and other contaminants from the land to the sea. An overabundance of nutrients has led to fish kills and other problems in the Inland Bays.
Oceanographer Kuo-Chuin Wong will conduct circulation studies in Little Assawoman Bay to better determine how the system is flushed and to identify the chief conduit for the exchange of water between the bay and connecting systems. This information will help resource managers and the local community assess the impact of the proposed dredging of Assawoman Canal on bay circulation.
Wong also will be involved in a Sea Grant project led by marine geologist Christopher Sommerfield to quantify sediment flow in the upper Delaware Estuary over a range of tidal and seasonal time scales. In previous Sea Grant research, Sommerfield and his team mapped the entire river bottom from Burlington, New Jersey, to New Castle, Delaware. This project will build on that research and help scientists gauge how much sediment is washed into the upper estuary, particularly during the spring when runoff is high from melting snow and rainfall.
Marine scientists Mark Warner and David Hutchins will examine Chattonella, a microscopic organism that is the latest threat to Delaware’s Inland Bays. Under certain environmental conditions, this microbe can grow rapidly and release harmful toxins that kill fish and other marine life. The scientists will assess how different levels of sunlight and nutrient availability affect the microbe’s growth. They also will explore the possibility of using naturally occurring bacteria to control Chattonella growth.
Botanists Jack Gallagher and Denise Seliskar will continue their research on the invasive marsh plant Phragmites australis. They will conduct field and laboratory studies of six different strains of the plant, focusing on the differences in growth of the underground stems called rhizomes under varying levels of environmental stress. This research may lead to better methods of controlling the marsh invader, as well as yield improved strains of the plant for use in drying sludge — “sludge busting” — at sewage treatment facilities.
In Environmental Technology, marine chemist George Luther will modify a sensor he developed to analyze the chemistry at hydrothermal vents for use in several “deep hole” lagoons in Torquay Canal where major fish kills have occurred. The durable sensor will be attached to a power cable for deployment from a mooring. A communication system will be set up so that field measurements for oxygen and sulfide can be made remotely.
Scientists Xiao-Hai Yan and Vic Klemas, who direct UD’s Center for Remote Sensing, will continue their research to develop new satellite-based techniques for monitoring the Delaware Bay and its adjacent wetlands. This research will use images taken by such high-tech satellites as the Sea Viewing Wide Field-of-View Sensor, which records subtle changes in sea color from space. The concentration of algae in the water and other environmental indicators can be derived from such images.
In related research, Mohsen Badiey and Kuo-Chuin Wong will combine their expertise in acoustics and oceanography, respectively, to conduct an acoustics modeling study in the laboratory to explore the use of underwater sound as a tool for estimating the Delaware Bay’s water temperature and salinity.
In Coastal Engineering, several projects will be undertaken in the wave tanks and labs at the UD Center for Applied Coastal Research and in the College of Marine Studies’ wind-wave-current tank in Lewes. Coastal engineer Jim Kirby will assist colleagues Mohsen Badiey and Kuo-Chuin Wong with their acoustic modeling study by providing information on tidal currents and sea-surface turbulence in the Delaware Bay, phenomena that affect how sound travels underwater.
Kirby and research associate Fengyan Shi will enhance UD’s popular Refraction/Diffraction wave model by improving its ability to predict the height of waves generated in harbors under strong ebb-tide conditions. The model will be applied to Indian River Inlet, Delaware, and Grays Harbor Inlet in Washington.
Under the leadership of coastal engineer Nobuhisa Kobayashi and oceanographer Fabrice Veron, UD’s CBREAK computer model will be expanded to predict longshore sediment transport under breaking wave conditions. Lab experiments will be conducted to measure turbulence generated by spilling, plunging, and collapsing breakers.
In Marine Biotechnology, oceanographer David Hutchins and marine biologist Craig Cary will continue their research to design a DNA probe to detect brown tide in coastal waters. Brown tide is a microscopic plant that can bloom so rapidly it forms a thick “soup” impenetrable by sunlight, which is devastating to clams and other bottom dwellers.
Marine biologists David Kirchman and Craig Cary will develop a real-time molecular method to enumerate bacteria in the Delaware River and determine how polyaromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) affect them. PAHs are toxic compounds that originate from tar, wood preservatives, and oil and other fossil fuels. Some microbes in the estuary can detoxify PAHs. The scientists want to assess the potential of these microbes in bioremediation of contaminated industrial sites along the river.
Marine biologist Nancy Targett will collaborate with molecular biologists Pam Green and Gustavo Macintosh at the Delaware Biotechnology Institute to purify the protein in the female horseshoe crab that is such an attractant to eels and conch. The scientists’ goal is to identify a sustainable source of this protein for use in an artificial bait for the eel and conch fisheries. This would relieve fishing pressure on the declining horseshoe crab, which currently is used for bait.
In a new research project, marine biologist Adam Marsh will develop a new molecular tool to monitor the health of an important regional fishery: the hard clam (Mercenaria mercenaria). He will be working with research associate Kevin Fielman and Marine Advisory Service specialist John Ewart to identify specific protein-based markers associated with environmental stressors, such as the shellfish pathogen called QPX, in hard clams.
In Fisheries, marine biologist Charles Epifanio and physical oceanographers Richard Garvine and Charles Tilburg will continue developing a predictive model of the blue crab fishery that takes into account the effect of natural forces — wind and rainfall — on the crab population. The blue crab is Delaware’s top fishery, valued at over $5 million per year.
Working with scientists from North Carolina State University and Louisiana State University, fishery biologist Tim Targett will continue 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 will be incorporated into a simulation model to predict how changes in water quality in estuarine nursery grounds affect young fish. Such a tool would help resource managers protect nursery grounds for major fisheries.
In other regional research, marine biologist Patrick Gaffney will develop a new genetic technique to rapidly screen baby oysters, or spat, to determine the success of oyster restoration programs in the Chesapeake Bay. The goal of the project is to help scientists and resource managers determine whether hatchery-produced oysters planted on newly constructed oyster reefs are surviving and contributing offspring to the area.
In Education, the Sea Grant Marine Advisory Service based at the UD Lewes campus and the Marine Public Education Office in Newark will conduct a wide range of outreach projects relating to K–12 marine education, water quality, coastal storms, seafood, fisheries and aquaculture, and other topics. The staff’s award-winning educational efforts range from publications, on-line research expeditions, and Web sites, to the SeaTalk radio series and Coast Day.
For more information, contact the Marine Public Education Office at (302) 831-8083, or visit the Delaware Sea Grant Web site at www.ocean.udel.edu/seagrant.