Mid-Atlantic Research Consortium for Oceanography (MARCO)

Facilities in Support of National Priorities for Research and Monitoring in the Coastal Zone:

Current Assets and Future Needs


The Challenge

Interagency Collaboration in the Development and Use of Coastal Research Vessels

Regional Organization

The Middle Atlantic Research Consortium for Oceanography (MARCO)

Bibliography


The Challenge

As a consequence of demographic trends and global climate change, the effects of human activities on the environment and natural resources are expected to be especially pronounced in the estuaries, bays, and sounds that constitute the coastal zone. Increases in human activity in coastal drainage basins and large scale pollutant transport via water and air may already be expressed in terms of increases in the susceptibility of coastal communities to natural disasters, losses of habitat, eutrophication, toxic algal blooms, fish kills, and publich health problems, all of which threaten the quality of life and the economies of coastal states and the nation.

In 1991, the Ecological Society of America challenged the scientific and management communities with the "Sustainable Biosphere Initiative" (SBI). Global change, biological diversity, and sustainable ecosystems were identified as priority areas of research based on their importance for the advancement of fundamental knowledge needed to manage for a sustainable biosphere. These have been embraced, in one form or another, in subsequent recommendations and long range plans for research in the coastal zone by the NSF, EPA, NOAA, ONR, DOE, CORE, and NAML. Recent studies under the auspices of the OSB and CENR have concluded that determining the roles of the oceans and of land-use in coastal drainage basins in the dynamics of coastal ecosystems is among the highest priorities for the ocean sciences.

In his recent essay on the future of marine science, Carl Wunsch (1993) concluded that "....only one prediction is secure: the ways in which science in the United States will be conducted and supported in the next several decades will differ from the ways to which we have become accustomed." Nowhere is this statement more true than in the nation's coastal zone where the resources of land, sea, and air and the missions and goals of government agencies concerned with environmental matters converge in a complex web of interaction. Given the current ways in which research and monitoring efforts are developed and implemented by federal and state agencies, the costs of defining and solving the increasingly complex array of environmental problems are becoming prohibitive.

Interagency Collaboration in the Development and Use of Coastal Research Vessels

Participants in an NSF sponsored workshop on coastal research facilities concluded in 1993 that "there is an urgent need to for modernization of many existing platforms and instruments and for the design and construction of modern high-capability, shallow-draft research vessels." More recently, a UNOLS report on "Projections for UNOLS' Future -- Substantial Financial Challenges" concludes that planning for modern "platforms to support coastal science" that are "vital to oceanographic science" must begin now. These and other studies underscore an important reality: ships and other platforms currently available for research in coastal ecosystems place severe limitations on the ability of the coastal research community to conduct research and monitoring programs that are responsive to national needs. Given the time required to design and construct major facilities such as ships (ca 10 years on average), the gap between national needs in the coastal zone and the capacity of the nation's research and management communities to respond will continue to grow if we do not act now.

Although purposes and rationales vary among federal and state agencies, recommendations and long range plans for research and monitoring in the coastal zone share common features that provide a means to "do more with less", i.e., to be more cost-effective in the conduct of coastal zone research and management activities. There is a common need for more comprehensive information on long term environmental change and the development of regional, interdisciplinary approaches that will provide the information and predictive capabilities required for proactive environmental management. The implementation of research and monitoring programs that address these and other challenges in a timely and effective fashion will depend on the availability of state-of-the-art research platforms and instrumentation. In this context, it must be emphasized that the design and operational requirements of these facilities are often similar if not identical. The cost-efficient realization of priority research and monitoring programs in the coastal zone will be directly related to the abilitity of government agencies and academic institutions to collaborate in the development and shared-use of the sophisticated (and expensive) research platforms and instrumentation required to meet national needs.

Regional Organization

Regional scale approaches (e.g., drainage basin-estuary-coastal ocean) are critical to the understanding of linkages among ecosystems (e.g., effects of land-use on water quality and fisheries) and to the prediction of change and the consequences of change within coastal ecosystems. The U.S. coastal zone consists of many complex systems that can be grouped into seven regions based on their environmental characteristics and related requirements for coastal research platforms: Great Lakes, North Atlantic, Mid-Atlantic, South Atlantic, Gulf Coast, the West Coast and Hawaii, and Alaska. Each region has special needs that should be considered in developing strategies for research and monitoring programs and for improving the infrastructure of facilities that will be needed to support these programs.

Although there are compelling reasons for the regional development of a new generation of research platforms nation-wide, the need for a modern, high-capability research vessel for near-shore and estuarine research and monitoring is arguably greatest in the Mid-Atlantic region for several reasons.

The Middle Atlantic Research Consortium for Oceanography (MARCO)

MARCO was formed to provide a forum for the discussion of priorities and consensus building; to stimulate regional approaches to research and education; to improve the availability and capabilites of research platforms and instrumentation; to promote shared use of facilities and the coordination of regional programs; and to maximize the cost-effectiveness of research and monitoring activities in the region. The consortium consists of the;

MARCO, in concert with the NSF, EPA, NOAA, ONR, and other state and federal agencies, can create and support the spectrum of facilities that will be needed to advance our understanding and management of coastal ecosystems in the Middle Atlantic region. With the building pressure to develop a predictive understanding of environmental change in the coastal zone in a climate of scarce resources and with the restructuring of agencies such as NOAA and EPA, the time to act is now.

Bibliography

Carnegie Commission on Science, Technology, and Government. 1992. Environmental research and development, strengthening the federal infrastructure. N.Y., N.Y. 143 pp.

Committee on Environment and Natural Resources. 1995. Setting a new course for U.S. coastal ocean science. NOAA Coastal Ocean Office, Silver Spring, MD, 111 pp.

Luchenco, J. et al. 1991. The sustainable biosphere initiative. Ecology, 72: 371-412.

Malone, T.C. and L.D. Wright. 1994. Planning today for the coastal research of tomorrow. Eos, Transactions, American Geophysical Union, 75: 243-244.

NRC. 1992. Oceanography in the next decade: building new partnerships. NAS Press, Washington, D.C. 202 pp. NRC. 1994. Priorities for coastal ecosystem science. NAS Press, Washington, D.C. 106 pp.

Wunch, C. 1993. Marine sciences in the coming decades. Science, 259: 296-297.