Automated optical analysis of zooplankton in Delaware Bay

Zooplankton are animals typically millimeters in length and thus barely visible to the naked human eye, but of vital importance to the Delaware Estuary ecosystem.  They include copepods and mysids along with early life stages of crabs, oysters, and finfish, providing an important link between primary producers and higher trophic levels.  However, a comprehensive survey of zooplankton has not been done in the Delaware Estuary for decades, leaving scientists and resource managers with little information on how zooplankton populations have changed, and how zooplankton dynamics in the Estuary relate to fisheries. 

This project is using a novel optical scanning instrument (ZooScan) coupled with pattern recognition software for the semi-autonomous quantification of zooplankton in field collected samples from the Delaware Estuary over the seasons to study spatiotemporal distributions of zooplankton as related to environmental variables in order to compare to historical records, and to inform work on invasive species detection and larval crab/oyster dispersal and settlement. The project will be expanding to investigate climate change effects on Delaware Bay zooplankton.underthescopelogo

We are also engaging educators, students, and citizen science organizations in zooplankton sampling. Learn more about how we are using zooplankton in education at

This project has been featured in UDaily, WDDE radio, The Coast Press, The News Journal (with graduate student Adam Wickline on the front page!), and WHYY First.

This work is funded through the Delaware Sea Grant College Program. 

Project Team

Talene Yeghissian (UD Masters student), Chris Petrone (education specialist, Sea Grant / Marine Advisory Service) and Jon Cohen (PI)

Featured Faculty

Jonathan Cohen

Jonathan Cohen picture

Associate Professor Marine Biosciences


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School of Marine Science & Policy

Advancing the understanding, stewardship, and conservation of estuarine, coastal, and ocean environments.

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Discovering how geological processes have operated over various time scales to create and influence the planet’s surface environments.

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Investigating the interactions between people and the environment and the processes that explain the location of human and natural phenomena.

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