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USGS Coastal and Marine Geology Program

Research Themes: Coastal and Marine Ecosystem Science

crustose coralline algae
The pink-colored rock in the foreground is the crustose coralline algae (CCA) community that commonly encrusts areas of the seafloor where hard substrate is exposed. [larger version]

Maintaining healthy and sustainable coastal and marine ecosystems relies on scientific understanding of how these areas function across landscape scales. Ecosystem-scale science addresses understanding important linkages between watersheds, estuaries, wetlands and offshore ocean regions. Human activities can impact or degrade the health and productivity of these resources by fragmenting habitats, altering drainage or circulation patterns, and introducing contaminants. USGS brings together multidisciplinary expertise focused on developing tools and models to improve understanding of how healthy ecosystems function as well as how they respond to environmental changes and human impacts including regional ecosystem restoration. Research studies address coral reef, coastal wetland, benthic habitat and groundwater resources.

Use the tabs below to see current research related to Coastal and Marine Ecosystem Science or see all Research Themes.

  • National Studies
  • Regional Studies
  • Applied Science
National Assessment of Shoreline ChangeNational Assessment of Shoreline Change
Creating a comprehensive, regionally-consistent analysis of shoreline movement over the short and long term, including historical and modern shorelines.
Sea-Level Rise Hazards and Decision SupportSea-Level Rise Hazards and Decision Support
Using combined scientific expertise in geology, hydrology, geography, biology, and ecology to understand and address the effects of sea-level rise on the Nation's coasts.
Assessment of Physical Changes in Barrier Islands and Coastal Wetlands Associated with Hurricane SandyAssessment of Physical Changes in Barrier Islands and Coastal Wetlands Associated with Hurricane Sandy
The Barrier Island and Estuarine Wetland Physical Change Assessment project is integrating a wetland assessment with existing coastal-change hazard assessments for the adjacent dunes and beaches, and will focus, initially, on Assateague Island, Maryland, to create a more comprehensive look at coastal ecosystem vulnerability.
Estuarine ResponseEstuarine Response
Using interdisciplinary science that combines observations and numerical modeling to evaluate possible future environmental changes in tidal wetlands, estuaries and coasts.
Marine Aggregate Resources and ProcessesMarine Aggregate Resources and Processes
Collaborative collection of information about offshore aggregate deposits such as grain size, composition and extent to support resource and habitat assessments, and sustainable use and protection.
Reef History and Climate ChangeReef History and Climate Change
Analyzing coral skeletons to document past environmental changes and determine the relationships between the changing environment and coral growth.
National Seafloor Mapping and Benthic Habitat Studies: AtlanticNational Seafloor Mapping and Benthic Habitat Studies: Atlantic
Scientific monitoring and assessment of diverse marine habitats at Stellwagen and Georges Banks to preserve and support a large fishing industry.
National Seafloor Mapping and Benthic Habitat Studies: PacificNational Seafloor Mapping and Benthic Habitat Studies: Pacific
Collecting seafloor samples, video, and sonar data to produce maps and geologic information for marine resource management.
Sediment Transport in Coastal EnvironmentsSediment Transport in Coastal Environments
Finding solutions to environmental problems caused by sediment erosion and movement.
Climate Change Impacts to the U.S. Pacific and Arctic CoastsClimate Change Impacts to the U.S. Pacific and Arctic Coasts
Understanding local and regional coastal response to forecasted changes.
Climate and environmental change in the Gulf of Mexico and CaribbeanClimate and environmental change in the Gulf of Mexico and Caribbean
Studying paleoceanographic, climatic, and environmental changes in the Gulf of Mexico and adjacent land areas to determine cycles of natural climate variability and environmental change over the last 10,000 years.
Coral Reef Ecosystem Studies (CREST)Coral Reef Ecosystem Studies (CREST)
Studying complex physical and biological processes that are impacting the health of coral reef ecosystems, such as climate change, ocean acidification, increasing fishing pressure, and occurrences of disease, to inform their sustainable management.
Assessment of Physical Changes in Barrier Islands and Coastal Wetlands Associated with Hurricane SandyAssessment of Physical Changes in Barrier Islands and Coastal Wetlands Associated with Hurricane Sandy
The Barrier Island and Estuarine Wetland Physical Change Assessment project is integrating a wetland assessment with existing coastal-change hazard assessments for the adjacent dunes and beaches, and will focus, initially, on Assateague Island, Maryland, to create a more comprehensive look at coastal ecosystem vulnerability.
Pacific Coral Reef Geology and OceanographyPacific Coral Reef Geology and Oceanography
Providing scientific understanding of the natural physical processes and human-induced impacts that critically influence the development and sustainability of U.S. coral reefs.
Sea-level and Storm Impacts on Estuarine Environments and Shorelines (SSIEES)Sea-level and Storm Impacts on Estuarine Environments and Shorelines (SSIEES)
Assessing the physical controls of sediment and material exchange between wetlands and estuarine environments along the northern Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic coast.
Coastal Habitats in Puget Sound (CHIPS)Coastal Habitats in Puget Sound (CHIPS)
Developing scientific information and tools to support natural resource managers in the adaptive management of nearshore habitats of Puget Sound.
Fire Island Coastal ChangeFire Island Coastal Change
Understanding the long- and short-term behavior of the Fire Island barrier island system to determine coastal resiliency based on sand availability and nearshore oceanographic processes.
San Francisco Bay Coastal SystemSan Francisco Bay Coastal System
Identifying the physical processes and human influences that have resulted in significant structural changes to San Francisco Bay.
Coastal Aquifer Project II (CAPII)Coastal Aquifer Project II (CAPII)
Quantifying the relative role of ground water in the delivery of fresh water and nutrients to geologically distinct coastal areas.
Barrier Island EvolutionBarrier Island Evolution
Addressing the research gap between the short time scale of individual storms and the longer time scales associated with the historic and geologic evolution of coastal systems.
Advanced Remote Sensing Methods for Coastal Science and ManagementAdvanced Remote Sensing Methods for Coastal Science and Management
Developing algorithms for characterizing and classifying features on the seafloor using data collected by both airborne and underwater instrumentation
New Approaches for Coastal ObservatoriesNew Approaches for Coastal Observatories
Observations from the coastal ocean are needed in real time for ocean prediction, environmental monitoring and ocean-process studies.
Sediment Transport in Coastal EnvironmentsSediment Transport in Coastal Environments
Finding solutions to environmental problems caused by sediment erosion and movement.
Ocean AcidificationOcean Acidification
Conducting research on ocean acidification in polar, temperate, subtropical, and tropical regions including the Arctic and Pacific Oceans, the Caribbean Sea, Gulf of Mexico and Florida coastal estuaries.
Coral Reef Community Calcification and MetabolismCoral Reef Community Calcification and Metabolism
Forecasting and hind-casting the future and past response of coral reef calcification and growth to changes in seawater carbonate chemistry from pre-industrial time to the year 2100.
Coral Microbial EcologyCoral Microbial Ecology
Studying of the relationship of coral-associated microorganisms to each other, the coral host, and to their environment.
Pacific Coral Reef Geology and OceanographyPacific Coral Reef Geology and Oceanography
Providing scientific understanding of the natural physical processes and human-induced impacts that critically influence the development and sustainability of U.S. coral reefs.
Coral Reef Ecosystem Studies (CREST)Coral Reef Ecosystem Studies (CREST)
Studying complex physical and biological processes that are impacting the health of coral reef ecosystems, such as climate change, ocean acidification, increasing fishing pressure, and occurrences of disease, to inform their sustainable management.
Coastal Aquifer Project II (CAPII)Coastal Aquifer Project II (CAPII)
Quantifying the relative role of ground water in the delivery of fresh water and nutrients to geologically distinct coastal areas.
Estuarine ResponseEstuarine Response
Using interdisciplinary science that combines observations and numerical modeling to evaluate possible future environmental changes in tidal wetlands, estuaries and coasts.
Barrier Island EvolutionBarrier Island Evolution
Addressing the research gap between the short time scale of individual storms and the longer time scales associated with the historic and geologic evolution of coastal systems.
Assessment of Physical Changes in Barrier Islands and Coastal Wetlands Associated with Hurricane SandyAssessment of Physical Changes in Barrier Islands and Coastal Wetlands Associated with Hurricane Sandy
The Barrier Island and Estuarine Wetland Physical Change Assessment project is integrating a wetland assessment with existing coastal-change hazard assessments for the adjacent dunes and beaches, and will focus, initially, on Assateague Island, Maryland, to create a more comprehensive look at coastal ecosystem vulnerability.
Coastal Model Applications and Field MeasurementsCoastal Model Applications and Field Measurements
Collaborative development of open-source numerical models for sediment-transport in coastal environments.
Lidar for Science and Resource ManagementLidar for Science and Resource Management
Multi-spectral remote sensing of coastal-marine and terrestrial environments.

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