Outstanding Day of Exploration at Horn Point Laboratory’s Open House

The University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science’s Horn Point Laboratory (HPL) welcomed over 650 guests to their annual Open House Saturday, October 14.  Free and open to the public, people of all ages explored over 15 hands on exhibits with Horn Point faculty and graduate students giving visitors the opportunity to experience science in real world situations.  The theme for this year’s event was “Bay Strong: Fighting for a clean environment.” A scavenger hunt introduced kids and parents alike to the “super heroes” of the Chesapeake Bay – oysters, marshes, plankton, and sturgeon,and shared how these heroes help make the Chesapeake Bay a healthier place for all of us.  Children received a free t-shirt for completing the scavenger hunt.

Kids rolled up their sleeves to forage in the Oyster Hatchery’s touch tank, finding baby horseshoe crabs, fish, eels, and crabs among the grasses.  The sturgeon exhibit gave visitors the opportunity to observe these prehistoric fish close up and compare other marine life of the Bay to these prehistoric giants growing up to 14 feet in length.

Visitors to the Open House were able to

  • Build a healthy marsh and learned who are our best partners to protect our shorelines.
  • Create and tag a bag of oyster shells to follow through the restoration projects.
  • Match up a DNA sequence to microscopic creatures important to the food chain.
  • Touch a sturgeon whose ancestors date to the Jurassic period
  • Create changing landscapes in a digital sand box to mimic different shorelines and model weather’s impact with laser imaging.
  • Take a “cell-fie” with the plankton that improves water quality.
  • Play a video game to learn what and how the balance of sediment to sea life is achieved.
  • Model the effects of sea level rise, increasing temperatures, and surge impacts on Baltimore Harbor and regional cities in 2050 and beyond.

“This is the best day of the year for the community to learn about the science of the Bay. Everyone at the lab is on deck to explain their research with activities and displays that make it easy to understand,” said Horn Point Laboratory Director Mike Roman.

From the banks of the Choptank River on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, HPL scientists engage in world-renowned research in oceanography, water quality, restoration of sea grasses, marshes and shellfish, and expertise in ecosystem modeling.

The open house is an annual event geared to all ages.

For more information, visit contact Carin Starr at cstarr@umces.edu, 410-221-8408.

UNIVERSITY OF MARYLAND CENTER FOR ENVIRONMENTAL SCIENCE

The University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science leads the way toward better management of Maryland’s natural resources and the protection and restoration of the Chesapeake Bay. From a network of laboratories located across the state, UMCES scientists provide sound advice to help state and national leaders manage the environment, and prepare future scientists to meet the global challenges of the 21st century. www.umces.edu

UMCES Commits to Generating Solar Energy on Horn Point Campus

Solar renewable energy will soon be generated in Cambridge, Maryland on the grounds of the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science (UMCES). UMCES has signed an agreement with Standard Solar, Inc. to install solar field on approximately 10 acres of its Horn Point Laboratory (HPL) campus. The solar field will be a 2 MW system with expected approximate annual generation of 3.5 MWh of solar renewable energy.

“While the work we do here helps others live more sustainably, it’s essential that we lead by example,” said UMCES president Don Boesch, who has led the University System of Maryland’s Environmental Sustainability and Climate Change Initiative since 2008. “Higher education has a key role in shaping a sustainable society.”

The project is a Power Purchase Agreement (PPA) in which the entity, Standard Solar, installs and operates the solar panels in exchange for the use of land, and UMCES agrees to purchase the equivalent energy being generated over the next 20 years from Standard Solar. It is expected that the solar field will generate approximately 50% of the Horn Point Laboratory’s annual energy consumption with anticipated cost savings over the duration of the agreement. 

The University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science is a signatory to the American College & University Presidents’ Climate Commitment and has launched several programs aimed at reducing our environmental footprint, including setting goals for reducing Green House Gas (GHG) emissions at each of our laboratories, upgrading aging infrastructure to newer, more energy-efficient alternatives, and building all new campus buildings to at least the U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED Silver standard or equivalent.

Design of the system has already begun on the solar project at the Horn Point Laboratory and construction is expected to begin this summer and be in service by the spring of 2018.

“The solar field is another example of how we are using innovative ways to manage Horn Point Laboratory in a way that reduces our environmental footprint and engages with the community,” said Mike Roman, director of the Horn Point Laboratory. This project also contributes to increasing Maryland’s in-state distributed electricity generation capacity and reducing the dependency on electricity imported from other states.”

UMCES has also been selected to receive a grant from the Maryland Energy Administration’s Solar PV Canopy with EV Charger Grant Program to offset the cost of four level-II electrical vehicle-charging stations on campus.

UNIVERSITY OF MARYLAND CENTER FOR ENVIRONMENTAL SCIENCE

The University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science leads the way toward better management of Maryland’s natural resources and the protection and restoration of the Chesapeake Bay. From a network of laboratories located across the state, UMCES scientists provide sound advice to help state and national leaders manage the environment, and prepare future scientists to meet the global challenges of the 21st century. www.umces.edu

Scientists partner with farmers and landowners to help reduce runoff

fisher 1Professor Tom Fisher wades into the water just past his knees in a creek at South Forge. We’re below a bridge on the edge of a narrow two-lane road that winds past farms and houses in Caroline County on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. The shallow stream itself runs past a farm, through a patch of woods, and into a large metal outflow pipe that carries the water under the road and eventually into the Choptank River on its way to the Chesapeake Bay.

He strings a rope across the stream that hangs a few inches above the water. From there, he holds up a meter stick and takes measurements of the stream’s depth. Then he straps on a device that measures the water velocity of the stream using a long metal pole that he systematically moves across the stream.

On the bank, field technician Michelle Lepori-Bui blows spiders out of a barrel-shaped device that automatically pulls water in from the stream at designated intervals so it can be tested for nitrogen and phosphorus levels, nutrients that are good for crops but bad for waterways. Algae blooms occur downstream in the Choptank and Chesapeake, blocking sunlight and reducing oxygen after the algae settle to the bottom, making it difficult for fish and oysters to survive.

fisher 2The monitoring is part of a five-year project called People Land Water. Funded by the National Science Foundation, Fisher and his team from the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science’s Horn Point Laboratory are working directly with farmers and residents on the Eastern Shore to measure the impacts of best management practices like cover crops and steam buffers on water quality. They are looking for the best ways to combat harmful runoff from farms and lawns in the watershed.

“A five square mile area drains to this point,” says Fisher. “The idea was to pick small areas so we could get to know all the farmers and as many of the residents as possible so we have a chance of making a significant increase in best management practices. There are some here already, but we’re trying to add on to that and measure the impact.”

Fisher and his team have been working directly with 25 farmers in Caroline County to implement a variety of best management practices intended to reduce the amount of nitrogen and phosphorus running off the land, into streams, and into the Chesapeake Bay. This region has particularly high nitrogen and phosphorus pollution because the dominant land use is agriculture.

fisher 3Maryland has been making progress toward its cleanup goals for the Chesapeake Bay. The latest report card gave the Bay a ‘C’ overall, crediting sewage treatment upgrades, use of winter cover crops by farmers, and reductions in atmospheric nitrogen deposition to moving the needle on restoration. While some tributaries have been improving, water quality in the Choptank River has been on the decline. Fisher and his team are trying to figure out why.

“If we can get 15 best management practices upstream, we can see an effect right here,” said Fisher, pointing to the stream as a truck rumbles by. “We can we see it in terms of nitrogen in base flow, and we can we see it in terms of phosphorus in storm events.”

The group works directly with farmers and residents to implement best management practices, also known as BMPs. For instance, residents can use rain barrels, rain gardens, denitrifying septic systems, and porous pavers to reduce impervious surfaces. Farmers can use cover crops in the off season, controlled drainage structures, and riparian buffers to protect streams from the adjacent land use.

Farmers pay for nitrogen and phosphorus for their crops to increase crop yields, applying it at a rate that is recommended by the State of Maryland. If the nutrients in the field end up in the waterways instead of making corn and vegetables grow big and strong, it not only causes poor water quality, but it is like washing money down the drain for farmers.

fisher 4The People Land Water project also has sociological and economic components. Through annual surveys, Horn Point Laboratory research scientist Kalla Kvalnes is studying whether and how much farmers’ attitudes are changing toward their role in improving water quality. The economic aspect, undertaken by agricultural and environmental economist Jon Winsten at Winrock International, provides information about the relative costs and benefits of management practices.

“I’m hoping it will make a difference in what BMPs are used,” said Fisher. “ I’m fairly certain that’s going to turn into a positive thing.”

For more on the People Land Water project, visit the project blog: peoplelandwater.wordpress.com or look for “People.Land.Water” on Facebook.

Science in the First Person: Jamie Pierson

Jamie Pierson“I study copepods, one of the smallest multicellular animals in the Chesapeake Bay. They are crustaceans, so they are related to crabs, but they eat mostly algae, or single-celled plants.

Copepod means ‘oar foot’ in Greek. They have appendages that act like oars, like on old rowing ships that have paired oars that move at the same time. Fun fact of the day: the study of copepods goes back to Aristotle, who described a parasitic species.

We drag these nets around and filter many cubic meters of water, and then we condense that down into a jar. On average there are a couple of copepods per liter. 

In the lab, we look at their egg production, we look at their grazing rate (how much they are eating), their growth and respiration rate. We’re interested in how those things change with temperature, with food availability, with dissolved oxygen availability, such as in the dead zone in the Bay.

Copepods are right in the middle of the food chain, and that’s why we are interested in what they are doing. You have phytoplankton, which can be measured from space by satellites, at the bottom end. At the top you have fish, which are very important to us.

But the only way you get from phytoplankton to fish—from autotrophs that use sunlight and basic nutrients as the building blocks of life to fish that are economically and ecologically important to us—is through the copepods, because the baby fish and forage fish in the middle eat lots of copepods. That’s how you get from the transfer of the sun’s energy to things that are economically important to us.

The long-term trend suggests that the total amount of copepods available in the Chesapeake Bay has decreased in the last 50 years. It could be because of changes in the types of algae growing due to nutrient inputs or changes in the timing of when the algae peaks.

They could also be affected by how many predators are out there. Jellyfish, larval fish, and forage fish like bay anchovy compete for them. If the conditions are really good for the predators, they can really eat up more of the copepods.”

Jamie Pierson
Biological Oceanographer
Horn Point Laboratory

 

OysterFutures project brings industry, managers together to discuss future

Scientists from the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science are part of a unique project designed to strategize new ways to manage an old industry. With the fate of the Chesapeake Bay’s oyster population in question, stakeholders ranging from watermen to environmentalists hope to look past any differences to reach a common goal—enhance the shellfish resource and fishery.

JaneHawkey_IAN 510x300_0_0This is the OysterFutures project, a five-year undertaking funded by the National Science Foundation that kicked off earlier this year. Its goal is to reach a consensus on strategies for oyster fishing practices and restoration in the Choptank and Little Choptank rivers on Maryland’s Eastern Shore.

Diminishing numbers of the shellfish has sparked some heated debates in recent years between the people who make a living off oysters and the people looking to restore their populations.

The  project brings together a diverse group of stakeholders from the oyster industry, environmental groups, and government agencies to make recommendations on ways to improve the oyster resource while integrating commercial and restoration interests.

Oysters are important to Maryland’s economy and cultural heritage, and for a clean and healthy Chesapeake Bay.

Elizabeth North, an associate professor with UMCES’ Horn Point Laboratory, said it’s kind of like drafting a business plan that ensures the future is bright both economically and environmentally speaking.

enorth-1_0“Hopefully with a better business plan, we will have a more profitable and a long-term sustainable industry that is based on rehabilitation and improvement of the oyster resource over time,” she said.

North is leading a group of scientists who are serving as consultants to the stakeholder group, collecting data, developing projection models, and observing the process.

Biologist Mike Wilberg of the UMCES’ Chesapeake Biological Laboratory has been working on a computer model that will be unveiled at the next OysterFutures meeting.

Using simulations and projections from the scientists, stakeholders will examine how various regulations or changes in restoration practices may have different outcomes for oyster population, harvests, and water quality. They will weigh the difference between longer or shorter seasons, having more or different sanctuaries, or changing gear types.

“We’re using the model to bring together all the science about oysters and how they are likely to respond,” Wilberg said. “Building the model in collaboration with the group lets us all learn from each other, which is a very important part of the OysterFutures process.”

The group has already held meetings and a symposium, and will meet a few more times to explore strategies and solutions before presenting its findings to the Maryland Department of Natural Resources in June 2017.

Whether the state will adopt any of the group’s recommendations isn’t clear, North said, but the process has already been valuable because of the people involved.

She described the discussions at recent meetings through OysterFutures as both strong and respectful, adding that this process of collaboration and compromise could be the key to creating more sustainable regulations, which in turn could lead to a healthier resource and industry.

“There’s a lot more common ground than I think the different groups are aware of,” North said. “It’s also uncomfortable because I keep seeing how many misconceptions that I’ve had, which are just going by the wayside.”

North expects the next meeting of stakeholders, scheduled Nov. 5 and 6, will be a strong indicator of the progress of those initial discussions.

“We really haven’t gotten to a point where people are trying to rate something, selecting one idea over another, which will start early next year, so that’s when we’ll really see whether this process works,” she said.

For updates on the OysterFutures project, visit oysterfutures.wordpress.com or the OysterFutures Facebook page.

Global warming is causing our oceans to suffocate

Nem_160920_154824_1_0Do you know why bubbles form in a pot of boiling water? It’s the oxygen leaving the liquid. The same thing is happening as a changing climate warms up our oceans. It’s called deoxygenation, or ocean suffocation. When the water warms up, it holds less oxygen for living creatures to use. At the same time, animals’ need for oxygen increases as the temperature rises. A double whammy.

Oceanographer Mike Roman, Director of the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science’s Horn Point Laboratory, spent time in Paris last month working with colleagues at UNESCO’s International Oceanographic Commission on ways to tackle the problem of an oxygen-deprived ocean.

“Low oxygen areas in the ocean are expanding at an alarming rate and will affect fisheries and ecosystem diversity,” said Roman. “It’s essential to look at problems that will occur the next decades and to advise governments on ways to coordinate research to solve them.”

The Commission is working on a plan to call nations to arms to coordinate research on deoxygenation around the globe and to educate politicians, managers, and the public about the problem. They expect to release their recommendations in 2017.

A Darn Good Sign: Underwater Grass Bed Can Protect and Maintain Own Health

An expansive bed of underwater grass at the mouth of the Susquehanna River has proven it is able to “take a licking and keep on ticking.” A recent study has found that the submersed aquatic vegetation (SAV) bed at Susquehanna Flats, which only recently made a comeback in the Chesapeake Bay, was not only able to survive a barrage of rough storms and flooding, but it has proven a natural ability to protect and maintain itself.

“It’s proof that restored SAV beds have the capability to be resilient,” said study author Cassie Gurbisz of the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science’s Horn Point Laboratory. “They can stick around for a while if you give them the right conditions.”

Screen Shot 2016-05-29 at 8.46.41 AMSome 40 years ago, Tropical Storm Agnes wiped out the Susquehanna Flats SAV bed, which had already been weakened by decades of nutrient pollution. In recent years, however, the bed made an incredible comeback, and today it is one of the biggest and healthiest in the Bay, spanning some 20 square miles.

It has been projected that climate change will bring increases in the frequency and intensity of extreme storm events, which leads to the question of whether or not these ecosystems can withstand or rebound from such events. Scientists studied how the bed at Susquehanna Flats responded to the one-two punch of major storms in 2011 (Hurricane Irene and the remnants of Tropical Storm Lee) to find how resilient the underwater grasses are in the upper Chesapeake.

Sea grasses are essential to the Bay ecosystem. They pull harmful nutrients out of the water, cause sediments to settle to the bottom so sunlight can reach plants, protect the shoreline by reducing the impact of waves and currents, and provide habitat and food for a host of important organisms, including baby crabs.

The team of scientists looked at time series datasets to explore how extreme events impacted the Susquehanna Flats and to understand the factors that drove loss and resilience in this large, dense and continuous meadow of grasses. They found that the storms in 2011 did some damage to the bed at Susquehanna Flats because the rush of the water from the Susquehanna River tore up plants around the edge of the bed and deposited sediment that blocked the sunlight, limiting photosynthesis.

However, the bed was able to reduce the force of high flows sufficiently to prevent plant erosion at its inner core. In addition, although the floodwaters dumped a lot of sediment onto the SAV bed, it also dampened the waves driven by the winds. This decreased the amount of sediment that was later churned up and, as a result, increased water clarity. In fact, clear water spilled over into adjacent regions during ebb tide, further improving the bed’s capacity for renewal by creating more favorable growing conditions in areas where plant loss had occurred.

“Although there was substantial SAV loss in response to a major flood event, the system was also remarkably resilient, apparently owing to strong biophysical feedback processes carried out by a large, dense, healthy SAV bed,” said Gurbisz.

It’s called a positive feedback process. The plant beds alter physical conditions in ways that enhance their own growth – and it may help plant beds absorb the harmful impacts of storms. For instance, the plants create clear water in the middle of the bed, which promotes more plant growth, further improving water clarity, and so on. When that clear water spills out of the plant bed into the surrounding water, more light is available for new plants to grow. Together, these processes create conditions that allow the bed to resist damage and recover more quickly from the rush of water and sediments from storms.

“The SAV bed modifies its environment in ways that improve its own growth and likely serve as mechanisms of SAV resilience to flood events,” said Gurbisz.

The study, “Mechanismsof storm-related loss and resilience in a large submersed plant bed” by Cassie Gurbisz, Michael Kemp, and Larry Sanford of the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science and Robert Orth of the Virginia Institute of Marine Science was published in Estuaries and Coasts.

“This study, which is part of Cassie’s graduate student research, is an example of the wonderful scientific  investigations our graduate students conduct to improve understanding of Chesapeake Bay,” said Mike Roman, Director of the Horn Point Laboratory.

Horn Point Laboratory Offers ‘Chesapeake Bay 101’ Science Seminars for Local Residents

The Chesapeake Bay and its rivers are the lifeblood of the Eastern Shore. While many easily recognize the natural beauty Bay country offers, the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science’s Horn Point Laboratory is offering “Bay 101 – Science of the Chesapeake for Non-Scientists”. The seminars are designed to make the science of the Chesapeake Bay as accessible as its beauty.

From April 7 through April 28, Horn Point Laboratory researchers will offer free, weekly talks about the science behind Chesapeake Bay on consecutive Thursdays. The forty-five-minute talks will not only shed light into the mysteries of the Bay, but also highlight Horn Point programs working to improve the health of the Bay and its aquatic life.  Questions and participation by the audience will be encouraged.

“Bay 101 – Science of the Chesapeake for Non-Scientists” will be held Thursdays at 4 p.m. in the Aquaculture and Restoration Ecology Laboratory (AREL) Lecture Hall at the Horn Point Laboratory, located at 2020 Horns Point Road in Cambridge, Maryland. To register, contact HPL Volunteer Coordinator Linda Starling at 410-221-8381 or starling@umces.edu.

Sessions include:

April 7: Genetic tools for monitoring and conservation of marine animals in Chesapeake Bay

Dr. Louis Plough will describe how genetic tools are being utilized for improved fishery management for oysters and river herring.

April 14:  Oyster Aquaculture in the Bay and Beyond

Graduate student, Anna Priester, will describe her travels to oyster farms around the country and discuss her own oyster research.

April 21:  Partnering with farmers to scientifically measure win/win scenarios for both nutrient reduction in the water and productive crop yields

Dr. Tom Fisher will speak about his research that enlists Caroline County farmers in solving the challenges of fertilizer use and clean water.

April 28: Sea Level and the Chesapeake Bay

Dr. Larry Sanford will talk about the geological history of sea level and its relation to current climate change.

The Horn Point Laboratory, located on more than 800 acres on the banks of the Choptank River on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, has advanced society’s understanding of the world’s estuarine and ocean ecosystems.

UMCES Appoints new Vice President

Screen Shot 2015-11-21 at 8.41.51 AMThe University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science announces the appointment of Kent Island resident Lynn Rehn as Vice President for Administration. She joins the leadership team at Maryland’s premiere environmental research university, headquartered in Cambridge, Md., as the chief financial and operating officer.

Rehn comes to UMCES from the University of Maryland Baltimore County, where she served as Assistant Vice President/Comptroller since 2009. Previously, she was Comptroller at the University of Maryland College Park, and held the position of Comptroller at UMCES between 2000 and 2005.

“Lynn comes back to us with deep knowledge of both University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science and University System of Maryland operations and with a strong commitment to our mission,” said UMCES President Dr. Donald Boesch. “We are excited about having Lynn return in this important leadership capacity. “

Previous Vice President for Administration Erica Kropp retires after more then 40 years serving the University System of Maryland, 11 of those years with UMCES.

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Explore the Bay Through Science at the Horn Point Lab Open House

The University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science’s Horn Point Laboratory invites the public to a free Open House on Saturday, October 10, 2015, from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Located along the banks of the Choptank River on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, the laboratory is renowned for its study of marine ecosystems.

The theme for this year’s event is “Explore the Bay.” It features exhibits by the laboratory’s scientists of their investigations in the Chesapeake Bay and coastal areas along the Atlantic Coast. This year, the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science celebrates 90 years of leading the way toward better management of Maryland’s natural resources and the protection and restoration of the Chesapeake Bay.

“This is the best day of the year for the community to learn about the science of the Bay. Everyone at the lab is on deck to explain their research with activities and displays that make it easy to understand,” said Horn Point Laboratory Director Mike Roman. “Our theme this year will ‘submerge’ our visitors in the water to learn how scientists explore the marine world.”

  • See underwater vehicles that can follow a school of fish or take the temperature of the ocean when big storms travel up the coast.
  • See an animation of the travels of oyster larvae as they move from the reef where they spawned to their new, permanent home reef.
  • Match up a DNA sequence to microscopic creatures important to the food chain.
  • Get up close with a sturgeon whose ancestors date to the Jurassic period
  • Meet and talk to graduate students about their environmental career goals.
  • At the children’s activity booth, create animals that live in the water with thumb print art. Play games that teach fun facts about the Bay.

The Open House is designed to interest all ages and will take place rain or shine. The Horn Point Laboratory campus is located 2020 Horns Point Road on Route 343 outside of Cambridge, Maryland.

For more information, visit umces.edu/hpl/openhouse2015 or contact Liz Freedlander at lfreedlander@umces.edu.

Part of the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science’s statewide network of research centers, the Horn Point Laboratory on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, has advanced society’s understanding of the world’s estuarine and ocean ecosystems. Horn Point scientists are world- respected for their interdisciplinary programs in oceanography, water quality, restoration of sea grasses, marshes and shellfish, and investigations of sea level rise and storm surge.