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National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science

Office of Response and Restoration

NOAA On-line Magazine Article on Ecological Forecasting

Ecological Forecasting: New Tools for Coastal and Marine Ecosystem Managments (pdf, 3Mb)

Gulf of Mexico Ecosystems and Hypoxia Assessment

Gulf of Mexico Hypoxia Assessment Reports

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Please visit our newer Ecological Forecasting Portal

Ecological Forecasting

satellite imagery and water sampling

NOS scientists use satellite imagery and water sampling to predict short-term ecological phenomena such as this harmful algal bloom (shown in red) off the west coast of Florida.

Ecological forecasts predict the impacts of chemical, biological, and physical changes on ecosystems, ecosystem components, and people. NOAA's National Ocean Service (NOS) has initiated a suite of ecological forecasts to support more effective ecosystem management. Ecological forecasts bring together wide-ranging research and observation programs to allow coastal resource managers to answer the "what if" questions about factors that affect coastal resources.

Benefits of Ecological Forecasts

Major benefits of ecological forecasts are (1) improving decisions to sustain ecosystem productivity and lessening the impacts from extreme natural events and human activities; (2) bringing scientists and resource managers together to solve resource management problems; and (3) focusing scientific research and monitoring priorities to reduce uncertainties in ecological forecasts.

seagrass restoration

NOS works to identify suitable sites and forecast recovery rates to increase success of seagrass restoration.

Operational Forecasts

Ecological forecasts vary in time and geographic scale. Depending on the ecosystem and the phenomenon being forecast, responses to ecological variables can take place on short-term or long-term time scales (hours to decades) and on spatial scales from local to regional to global. Some current forecasts include:

Short-term local: Predicting the presence of sea nettles in the Chesapeake Bay.

Short-term local: Predicting the movement and behavior of spilled oil or chemicals and evaluating the risk to resources.

Short-term local: Predicting the abundance of pink shrimp in North Carolina in the spring and summer based on cold ocean temperatures during the previous winter.

Short-term regional: Predicting the development, persistence, movement, and landfall of harmful algal blooms in the Gulf of Mexico.

Long-term local: Predicting the long-term viability and functional value of various habitats to scale the necessary restoration for compensation or mitigation at numerous hazardous waste sites.

Oil spill on Patuxent River

During oil spills such as this one on Maryland's Patuxent River, NOS forecasts the movement and behavior of spilled oil (the dark areas on the water), evaluates the risk to resources, and recommends protection priorities and appropriate cleanup actions.

Forecasts Under Development

Short-term regional: Predicting the development, persistence, movement, and the landfall of harmful algal blooms in the Gulf of Maine and the western portion of the Gulf of Mexico.

Long-term local: Predicting the effectiveness of seagrass restoration efforts in Tampa Bay, Chesapeake Bay, and Southern Pamlico Sound based on projected wave disturbance and major storms.

Long-term local: Climate change and intertidal risk analysis – forecasting the effects of climate change on the biogeography of foundation species in estuarine and rocky intertidal ecosystems.

Long-term national: Predicting changes in the size of the Gulf of Mexico dead zone based on nutrient impacts in the Mississippi River and its Midwest tributaries.

Long-term regional: Predicting the potential population of cod and haddock in Georges Bank based on predator/prey relationships and environmental variability.

Long-term regional: Predicting shellfish bed closures based on freshwater input (rainfall) due to large coastal storms.