NOAA logo National Ocean Service

Ecological Forecasting

26 August 2011, 1:50 pm

oil sheen in puddle of water

Ecological Forecasting

What is Ecological Forecasting?

Forecasts are a part of our everyday lives. Weather forecasts help businesses make plans. Economic forecasts help individuals and businesses navigate the uncertainties of the financial world. Similarly, ecological forecasts allow people to answer the "what if" questions in coastal management. Why do we need this? Because our coasts and oceans are constantly changing!

Just as a weather forecast may help you decide if you need to pack an umbrella, different types of ecological forecasts help coastal managers and scientists make better decisions based on what may lie ahead for a local beach, a large Bay, or even an entire coast.

This knowledge can help us respond to extreme natural events like hurricanes or human activities like wastewater runoff. And it can help us solve resource management problems, such as how to best manage an important fishery. Improving ecological forecasting capabilities is one of NOAA's top priorities.

Local, Short-term Ecological Forecasting

Many of the ecological forecasts produced by NOS are short-term and localized, similar to weather forecasts.

Example: Sea Nettles in the Chesapeake Bay. A type of jellyfish called the sea nettle seasonally infests the Chesapeake Bay. During this period, vacationers avoid the water to avoid painful stings. Sea nettles are more than just a nuisance to beachgoers, though. They're voracious predators that devour copepods (tiny crustaceans), fish eggs, larvae, and comb jellies. This predation can impact the food web in the Bay, leading to a reduction in the abundance of fish in the bay. As you might imagine, knowing where and when to expect this nuisance may help people better plan their activities and reduce the problems they experience. To meet this need, NOAA and partners produce daily forecasts of probable sea nettle presence. This framework is also being adapted to help predict harmful algal blooms (HABs) in the Chesapeake Bay. Read more examples (redirect to original article)

Long-term Ecological Forecasting

Some ecological forecasts focus on longer-term or broader issues, such as year-to-year variations in fish stocks or predicting hypoxic 'Dead Zones.'

Example: Sea Grass Restoration Suitability and Recovery Rates. Sea grass beds are valuable ecosystems that provide refuge and food for wildlife, fish, shellfish, and the food webs that support them. NOAA's National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science has developed forecast models that identify the best areas for sea grass restoration based on the probabilities that beds will not be lost in severe storms. Other models forecast rates of sea grass recovery so planners can set realistic restoration milestones. NOAA's work to identify suitable sites and to forecast recovery rates increases restoration project success. These methods also provide a basis for habitat damage assessments. Read more examples (redirect to original article)

Goal for the Future

While NOAA and partners produce a wide range of ecological forecasts today, there is still much more work to be done—not only in producing new short- and long-term ecological forecasts for locations around the nation, but also in improving existing forecasts.

It's important to stress that these efforts only work because of partnerships at all levels—with universities, local and state governments, and other federal agencies. Our strong partnerships help decision-makers identify what is needed to develop the forecasts and support the capability to respond to those needs.

Ecological forecasting is a new and challenging science that ties together a wide range of research and observations. Forecasts integrate physical, chemical, biological, economic, and social data about the present condition of the coastal environment and predict future conditions, based upon different management strategies.

Ultimately, these forecasts allow managers to evaluate what future conditions are acceptable to us as a society and to take appropriate actions to make those conditions reality.

Original article: Ecological Forecasting