Chesapeake Bay Projects

Science Center Objects

The Chesapeake Bay is the nation’s largest estuary and third largest in the world.  It is an important habitat for many species and our science focuses on wetlands and waterbirds. Our scientists address such questions as “How are Chesapeake Bay wetlands responding to sea level rise?” and “How do different shoreline types impact waterbird populations?” and “What can refuge land managers do to increase black duck populations?”

Collecting measurements from SET

SET – MH Station: Reading a surface elevation table – marker horizon (SET – MH) station in a Jamaica Bay, NY salt marsh. (Public domain.)


Surface Elevation Table

The Surface Elevation Table (SET) is a portable mechanical leveling device for measuring the relative elevation change of wetland sediments. This website presents information on the purpose, design, and use of the SET. The website is specifically designed to be a forum for researchers in wetland science who use or might use the device and to offer more information about the proper use of the SET and interpretation of its data. But we encourage anyone who wants to learn more about research techniques and their development to visit the site as well.





A hardened shoreline (rip-rap revetment)

Shorelines hardened with rocks or bulkheads have become a common site in the Chesapeake Bay. Yet, the implications of these changes are largely unknown.  (Public domain.)



Shoreline Changes and Impacts to Natural Resources in Chesapeake Bay

Climate change and sea level rise are expected to affect many miles of shoreline in the Chesapeake Bay and elsewhere along the Atlantic Coast in the coming years. In this scenario, federal and state agencies need to make more detailed assessments of how different watersheds and shoreline types might influence an array of ecosystem functions and components. Recently, most states are promoting “living shorelines” (soft engineering with marsh vegetation) rather than hardening methods (riprap or bulkheads) to cope with sea level rise and erosion. Not all methods can effectively be applied in all locations; therefore both field and modeling approaches are needed to determine how different shoreline types and watershed conditions influence water quality, submerged vegetation (SAV), and macrofauna, including top-level trophic waterbirds.


Poplar Island Environmental Restoration Project

An early view of Poplar Island prior to the construction of current marsh habitat. (Public domain.)




Island Restoration, Sea Level Rise, and Waterbirds in Chesapeake Bay

For several decades, the US Army Corps of Engineers, along with numerous state and federal partners, have been creating and restoring islands with dredged materials from navigation channels in the Bay. Natural resources management goals have guided restoration plans for these islands since the mid 1990’s. The USGS Patuxent Wildlife Research Center has been the only USGS science research presence on the large (1700 acres) Poplar Island restoration project; Patuxent has been monitoring wildlife populations effort since 2002. Six species of breeding waterbirds of “special concern” to the states and region have been studied as they have colonized the restored site. This island is now a key habitat for waterbirds because sea level rise and erosion have eliminated many potential nesting islands in the Bay.

Research Team Banding chicks on Poplar Island

The field crew weights and bands tern chicks on Poplar Island. (Public domain.)





Productivity of Species of Concern – Least Tern and Common Tern on Poplar Island Restoration Site

Concern has been raised over productivity of two important tern species that have colonized Poplar Island Environmental Restoration Project (PIERP): the Maryland state-listed Least Tern (Sternula antillarum) and Common Tern (Sterna hirundo). Over the 14 year monitoring period at PIERP (beginning 2002), hatching and fledging success of these species has been variable, believed to be linked with natural stressors including avian and mammalian predators and severe weather events.


American Black Duck (Anas rubripes)

American Black Duck(Public domain.)





Vulnerability Assessment of Available Habitat for Wintering Black Ducks within the Refuge System in the Chesapeake Bay

Executive order 13508 Chesapeake Bay Strategy requires a three-year average wintering black duck populations in the Chesapeake Bay watershed of 100,000 birds by 2025. Recent average at 37,158 black ducks in the Chesapeake Bay. By 2017, National Wildlife Refuges will increase by 10 percent the availability of food resources to support energetic carrying capacity for wintering black ducks on refuge lands located within the Chesapeake watershed. The increase of food resources on refuges will be accomplished through active wetland restoration and management, habitat protection, invasive species control and potential expansion of refuges.