The National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science (NCCOS) conducts and supports research, monitoring, assessment, and technical assistance for managing coastal ecosystems and society's use of these ecosystems. NCCOS activities fit within a framework of five environmental stressors, including climate change, extreme natural events, pollution, invasive species, and land and resource use.
Map showing seabird data for the New York offshore planning area.
A NOAA study published in March 2012 will help New York state officials guide ecologically sensitive development of offshore wind energy projects. The study will help the state identify favorable development sites in the Atlantic Ocean that will not endanger critical offshore bird and turtle migration routes and fragile underwater habitats. Ultimately, wind farm siting decisions will be streamlined as a result of the study, expediting development of related industry jobs in the region.
The report, A Biogeographic Assessment of Seabirds, Deep Sea Corals and Ocean Habitats of the New York Bight, is the result of a two-year collaboration between the New York Department of State's Ocean and Great Lakes Program and NOAA's National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science. This groundbreaking assessment provides a detailed accounting of biodiversity and ecological processes in an area with great potential for energy development. Particular attention was given to ecologically critical or sensitive species, such as seabirds, deep sea corals, and sponge communities. The report will help New York state officials better understand potential interactions between natural resources and proposed wind farms and reduce uncertainties for prospective investors.
NCCOS monitors coastal contaminants and their effects on the local marine environment to identify problem areas that need management attention.
NOAA scientists have identified a Superfund site 25 miles away as the source of contaminants in fish samples recently collected at the Sapelo Island National Estuarine Research Reserve in Georgia. The National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science (NCCOS) researchers found a type of polychlorinated biphenyl, commonly known as PCBs, that looks chemically similar to Aroclor 1268, the main PCB mixture associated with the LCP Chemicals Superfund site near Brunswick, Georgia.
While concentrations of total PCBs in some fish sampled fell within the range for which the Environmental Protection Agency recommends limiting consumption to four or fewer fish meals per month, general results suggest that the majority of the reserve's subtidal habitat is healthy. PCBs were widely used in the past, mainly in electrical equipment, but were banned in the 1970s in many countries, including the United States, because of their toxicity and ability to accumulate in organisms through the food web.
NCCOS collaborated with staff from the reserve and NOAA's Office of Ocean and Coastal Resource Management. The results of the study establish baseline ecological conditions in the reserve, which are necessary to monitor ecological changes in the reserve and guide management and stewardship of the reserve.
Satellite image of Lake Erie from 2004 showing a bloom of algae in the southwestern portion of the lake.
In July 2012, NOAA and partners announced a new seasonal harmful algal bloom (HAB) forecast for Lake Erie. The forecast, developed by the National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science (NCCOS) at the request of regional managers and stakeholders, predicted a mild bloom for the 2012 season, a welcome change for water utilities, recreational anglers, and others living and working on the lake who have endured increasingly severe algae blooms since 2008. The algae problem is caused by the blue-green alga Microcystis, which can produce toxins and overgrowths that harm fish, people, and the environment.
The new seasonal forecast supplements weekly near-real-time forecasts—also developed by NCCOS—that help water treatment plant operators know when to use extra carbon filtration to preserve the quality of local drinking water. This planning information saves water companies money because it takes tons of additional activated charcoal to produce potable water during a HAB event. Data for the seasonal and weekly HAB forecasts come from an instrument called a Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectrometer, or MODIS, carried aboard a NASA environmental observation satellite called Aqua.
Harmful algal blooms, or HABs, occur nearly every summer along the nation's coasts. Sometimes, the blooms turn the water a deep red.
In April 2012, researchers funded by the National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science deployed a sensor that detects cells of the species of algae responsible for toxic red tides in the Gulf of Maine. The device relays data back to scientists and coastal mangers on land that enable state agencies to decide whether or not to close specific areas to shellfishing.
This sensor, called the Environmental Sample Processor (ESP), is being tested simultaneously with traditional shipboard sampling techniques to determine the sensor's accuracy. Ultimately, NOAA and state agencies would like to have a wide-spread network of ESPs that provides continuous, near-real-time data along the coast to increase the precision of weekly harmful algal bloom forecasts. The recent ESP sensor deployment is a significant advancement toward realizing this long-term goal.
The Northeastern Regional Association of Coastal and Ocean Observing Systems—a regional component of the U.S. Integrated Ocean Observing System Program—and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency both supported experimental stages of this research.
Stone crabs, normally found only in South Atlantic estuaries, are moving northward due to warming water temperatures.
In January 2012, a NOAA-funded researcher showed that stone crabs, normally found only in South Atlantic estuaries, are moving northward due to warming water temperatures. This range shift is likely to increase interactions among stone crabs, other crab species, and their prey.
Blue crabs—found throughout the mid-Atlantic region—and stone crabs both readily consume small hard clams, while only stone crabs are efficient predators of large hard clams, which blue crabs avoid. In a climate-changed mid-Atlantic estuary, stone crabs will consume a wide range of clam sizes, and large clams may lose the "size refuge" they once enjoyed. Long-term implications for these crab and clam populations are uncertain.