FORECASTING: A NEW OUTLOOK FOR NOAA
15, 2002 — America's ocean
and coastal environments provide a wealth of resources, a home for
many marine species and opportunities for business and recreation. Sustaining
productive ecosystems, and restoring damaged ones, depends on our ability
to understand and predict the impacts of human activities and natural
processes on those systems — in other words, to forecast change.
As a result, NOAA has begun development
of a suite of forecasts — Ecological Forecasts — to support
more effective decisions related to these valuable ecosystem goods and
services (ecological forecasts are predictions of the impacts of chemical,
biological and physical changes on ecosystems, ecosystem components and
are a part of our everyday lives. We rely on weather forecasts to plan
the day’s events or to prepare for a severe storm. We use climate
forecasts in agricultural and energy planning. Economic forecasts help
individuals and businesses navigate the uncertainties of the financial
world. Similarly, ecological forecasts allow resource managers to answer
the “what if” questions that are the foundation for assessing
management and policy options.
leadership of National Ocean Service’s National
Centers for Coastal Ocean Science, is expanding NOAA’s assessment
and prediction capabilities to support proactive ecosystem management.
Specifically, NOAA is developing ecological
forecasts for coastal managers in an effort to help converge wide-ranging
research and observation programs around this new and challenging science,
which ultimately enriches the science-policy interface.
of Ecological Forecasts
There are many types of potential ecological forecasts. Some
are like weather forecasts with predictions of what is likely to happen
in a particular location in the short term (i.e., sea nettles in the Chesapeake
Bay, the landfall of harmful algal blooms or the movement of oil spills).
Others, however, focus on much longer term and larger scale phenomena
(such as year-to-year variation in fish stocks, rates of sea grass restoration,
effects of climate on oysters, and water quality in the Gulf of Mexico).
Ecosystem responses are as varied as the inputs that strain them, playing
out on scales from hours to decades and from local to global.
Short-term Ecological Forecasting
Nettles in the Chesapeake Bay: Sea nettles, Chrysaora
quinquecirrha, seasonally infest the Chesapeake Bay and affect
many activities along its shores, including recreational activities.
The effect of sea nettles is not limited to vacationers or weekenders
who may shun Chesapeake Bay beaches to avoid painful allergic reactions
from contact with their tentacles. Sea nettles are voracious predators,
devouring copepods (minute crustaceans), fish eggs and larvae and comb
jellies — thereby affecting the food web and possibly the abundance
of fish in the bay. The adverse effect of sea nettles may be mitigated
if their presence can be monitored and predicted in near real time.
Knowing where and when to expect this biotic nuisance may help people
better plan their activities and eventually help to alleviate this problem.
A collaboration between NOS,
the National Environmental Satellite,
Data and Information Service, and others produce forecasts of probable
sea nettle presence every Friday by identifying locations where the
current environmental conditions are favorable to sea nettles.
of Harmful Algal Blooms: Florida
Red Tide HABs occur in every coastal state and have caused a cumulative
economic loss exceeding $1 billion over the last two decades. Movement
of HABs from the ocean to shore can cause human illness and death, as
well as fish and marine mammal kills. Florida red tides, for example,
release neurotoxins that have killed fish and marine mammals, and caused
respiratory impairments for people along the shore. The NOAA National
Centers for Coastal Ocean Science and Coastal Services Center, in partnership
with the NESDIS, produces Red Tide forecasts in the Gulf of Mexico,
based on satellite imagery, data from research vessels and models —
of which are used to alert local, state and federal officials of the
location and movement of the bloom. With improved understanding of how
physical and biological processes interact to promote HAB development,
reliable models can support rapid response by monitoring agencies and
health departments to safeguard public health, local economies and fisheries.
Spill Modeling: The NOAA Office
of Response and Restoration HAZMAT
program interdisciplinary scientific team responds to oil and chemical
spills in U.S. waters. Its forecasts of the movement and behavior of
spilled oil or chemicals, evaluation of risk to resources, and recommendations
for protection priorities and appropriate cleanup actions are a critical
part of the nation’s response to both minor and major spill events.
To carry out its mission, the team develops and uses a range of oil
spill models that predict the movement of the spilled chemicals,
including potential landfall and damage to sensitive environments.
Large Scale Ecological Forecasting
Forecasts: A major mission of NOAA
Fisheries is to recommend
harvest rates based on forecast responses of commercial
fish stocks. Based on estimates of current stock sizes and trends,
growth and mortality, stock assessment models are used to recommend
rates of harvest that will allow the fisheries to operate at sustaining
levels. These ecological forecasts are among the oldest and most operational
in marine science.
Grass Recovery Rates and Restoration Suitability: 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 they will be lost to acute storm events. Other models forecast
rates of sea grass recovery that help set performance milestones for
restoration effectiveness. NOAA’s work to identify suitable sites
and forecast recovery rates increases restoration success and provides
a basis for habitat damage assessment cases.
of Water Use Under a Changing Climate — Apalachicola Bay Oyster
Increases in human consumption of fresh water and climate change can
both impact the sustainability of fisheries. For example, reduction
of freshwater flow to estuaries can increase estuary salinity and modify
water circulation patterns in fisheries habitat. The NOAA National Centers
for Coastal Ocean Science developed models to forecast changes in Apalachicola
Bay (Florida) salinity and oyster mortality under two scenarios: meeting
2050 demands for water under current climate conditions and meeting
those same demands under a potentially drier climate. Forecasts indicate
a doubling of oyster mortality rates when meeting the 2050 human water
needs under current climate conditions and a five-fold increase in mortality
when meeting 2050 water needs under a drier climate.
The National Academy of Sciences recently concluded that nutrient pollution
is the most serious coastal pollution problem. The most dramatic example
of this impact is the area commonly called the Dead Zone in the northern
Gulf of Mexico. This massive region of very low oxygen levels (hypoxia)
stretches from the Mississippi River into Texas coastal waters and in
2002 covered an area larger than the state of Massachusetts (20,000
square kilometers). The Gulf of Mexico contains almost half of the nation’s
coastal wetlands and supports approximately 20 percent of the dollar
value of its commercial fishery landings. Two sets of forecasts developed
through the National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science have shown that
reducing the current annual nitrogen load of 1.6 million metric tons
from the Mississippi River system by 30 to 40 percent would dramatically
reduce the hypoxic area and move toward the goal set in the Federal-State-Tribal
Action Plan for reducing
hypoxia in the Gulf.
The success of ecological forecasting depends on partnerships
at all levels, from universities and local/state governments to other
federal agencies. Strong partnerships will help decision makers inside
and outside government identify the most critically needed forecasts and
support efforts to build, test and apply them. Some key elements of those
partnerships are emerging. The National Science and Technology Council
Ecological Subcommittee has developed an interagency conceptual plan for
moving forward (Committee on Environmental and Natural Resources, 2001.
Ecological Forecasting, Washington, D.C., 12pp. Ecological Forecasting@si.edu)
and the ecological academic community has made progress in defining many
of the attributes, constraints and potentials for ecological forecasting
(Clark et al. 2001. Ecological Forecasts: An Emerging Imperative, Science
Focusing on developing, testing and applying ecological forecasts
provides coastal research and management communities with three benefits.
First, ecological forecasts will help decision makers better manage the
Nation’s coastal resources because they provide valuable information
for better assessments that predict future conditions of proposed actions
and the potential impacts of their decisions. Second, focusing on defining
ecological forecast needs will strengthen the link between research and
management by tying management needs to a scientifically challenging agenda.
Finally, the desire to build and improve ecological forecasts will help
focus NOAA’s coastal science agenda by assuring that NOAA’s
monitoring, research and model development efforts are geared toward the
needs of coastal managers conducting ecological forecasts.
State of the Coasts Report
National Ocean Service
NOS's National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science
Ecological Forecasts Brochure
Sea Nettles in the Chesapeake Bay
Environmental Satellite, Data Information Service
Office of Response and Restoration
Software for Oil Spill Responders and Planners
IN THE GULF OF MEXICO: Progress towards the completion of an Integrated
Tyson, NOAA's Ocean Service,