Integrating Estuarine Water-Quality Data in Northeastern National Parks

Science Center Objects

Estuaries worldwide are threatened by nutrient over-enrichment from watershed development. USGS led development of a regional protocol to monitor estuarine nutrient status in northeastern coastal National Parks. Synthesis and reporting of monitoring results at local and regional scales allows park managers to identify changing nutrient loads and susceptibility to eutrophication. 

The Challenge: Estuaries in northeastern states are severely threatened by the adverse impacts of nutrient over-enrichment. USGS led the development of a vital-signs protocol to monitor estuarine nutrient status in northeastern National Parks, and monitoring has been operational in coastal parks from Massachusetts to Virginia since 2006. Monitoring results must be synthesized and interpreted in a spatial and temporal context to determine if nutrient inputs are nearing thresholds that would result in shifts in ecosystem structure and function.

The Science: Biennial water-quality monitoring is conducted in park estuaries during a summer index period at a hierarchy of temporal and spatial scales. We analyzed monitoring data to derive statistically-valid estimates of estuarine condition within six coastal parks. We also integrated park data over time, across parks, and with complementary data from other federal monitoring programs to improve the ability to interpret vital-signs monitoring data. In particular, this will allow the condition of NPS estuaries to be viewed within the broader context of northeastern coastal condition, watershed characteristics, and riverine inputs.

The Future: USGS continues to assist NPS with consistent implementation of monitoring standards, synthesis, and interpretation of estuarine monitoring data. User-friendly tools for data export and synthesis produced by this project enable NPS to report on the condition of estuaries in coastal parks. Integration of NPS monitoring data with information on watershed characteristics and nutrient load will help identify potential causes of estuarine degradation and suggest management strategies to improve and maintain the quality of estuarine resources.