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Ecological Forecasts and Tools

Ecological Forecasts and Tools
Ecological forecasts, such as these annual toxic Alexandrium cyst abundance predictions, support timely response by state agencies and health departments to safeguard public health, local economies, and fisheries. In this case, Maine can warn shellfisheries that conditions for a bloom are developing nearby. Image credit: Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution

Ecological forecasts predict the magnitude, direction, and impact of changes on ecosystem health and productivity. They are used by coastal planners and managers to anticipate problems and target monitoring, to predict the impact of a proposed project or the effectiveness of a possible mitigation action, and to locate the best site for a project. The annual hypoxia forecast for the Gulf of Mexico is used to refine the strategy to reduce the size of the “dead zone.”

Our Harmful Algal Bloom forecasts alert coastal managers to blooms offshore before they are reported at the coasts. These forecasts identify which blooms are harmful, where the blooms are, how big they are, and where they’re headed. Health officials, environmental managers and water treatment facility operators increase monitoring in areas where HABs are anticipated and close beaches and shellfish beds and treat drinking water when conditions become unsafe.

Pathogen forecasts allow public health officials to assess the probability of occurrence and abundance of select water-borne bacterial pathogens up to 3 days in advance. In the Chesapeake Bay, we have developed forecasts Vibrio vulnificus (responsible for 95 percent of all seafood related deaths in the US), V. cholerae (causes cholera), and V. parahaemolyticus (causes gastrointestinal illness).

Our hypoxia forecasts enable coastal resource managers to make informed, proactive, and scientifically based decisions to help mitigate the impact of nutrients and hypoxia on aquatic ecosystems and evaluate the effectiveness of mitigation and restoration strategies. NCCOS is developing pilot and operational hypoxia forecasts in the Northern Gulf of Mexico, Chesapeake Bay, Narragansett Bay, and Lake Erie.

Forecasts are also used by tourists, coastal residents, fishermen, and other groups along the coast. In the Chesapeake Bay, commercial crabbers are interested in a weekly hypoxia forecast that would alert them to areas where they need to pull their traps before the crabs die from the low oxygen. Our wave exposure model is used to site boating docks and restoration projects.