Final Report: Development, Testing, and Application of Ecological and Socioeconomic Indicators for Integrated Assessment of Aquatic Ecosystems of the Atlantic Slope in the Mid-Atlantic States

EPA Grant Number: R828684
Center: EAGLES - Atlantic Slope Consortium
Center Director: Brooks, Robert P.
Title: Development, Testing, and Application of Ecological and Socioeconomic Indicators for Integrated Assessment of Aquatic Ecosystems of the Atlantic Slope in the Mid-Atlantic States
Investigators: Brooks, Robert P. , Armstrong, Brian K. , Bishop, Joseph A. , Easterling, Mary M. , Hite, Jeremy T. , Rubbo, Jennifer , Thornton, Kent , Wardrop, Denice Heller
Institution: Pennsylvania State University - Main Campus , FTN Associates Ltd.
EPA Project Officer: Hiscock, Michael
Project Period: March 1, 2001 through February 1, 2005 (Extended to February 28, 2006)
Project Amount: $6,000,000
RFA: Environmental Indicators in the Estuarine Environment Research Program (2000) RFA Text |  Recipients Lists
Research Category: Ecological Indicators/Assessment/Restoration , Water , Ecosystems

Objective:

Coastal ecosystems and their watersheds are at risk from human activities, past and present. With more than one-half of the world’s human population residing within 100 km of coastlines, and increasing densities likely in the coming decades, it is essential that humans be considered part of, not apart from, these valuable aquatic ecosystems. Sixty-five percent of the monitored coastal estuaries exhibit signs of moderate to high levels of eutrophication (Bricker, et al., 1999). “Dead zones” in coastal waters are increasing, not only in the Gulf of Mexico but also in the Chesapeake Bay, Delaware Bay, Long Island Sound, and other estuaries around the country (U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, 2004). Recognizing the critical influences that human activities have on the ecological condition of the interconnected aquatic ecosystems of coastal areas—wetlands, streams, rivers, and estuaries—the Atlantic Slope Consortium (ASC) team spent 5 years developing a suite of ecological and socioeconomic indicators for assessing and managing the condition of these vital resources in the mid-Atlantic region.

The ASC is a collaboration among scientists with Pennsylvania State University, the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center, the Virginia Institute of Marine Science, East Carolina University, the Environmental Law Institute, and FTN Associates, Ltd. The ASC project, formally entitled “Development, Testing, and Application of Ecological and Socioeconomic Indicators for Integrated Assessment of Aquatic Ecosystems of the Atlantic Slope in the Mid-Atlantic States,” is one of five national projects funded by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Office of Research and Development through its Estuarine and Great Lakes (EaGLe) Indicator Research Program, part of EPA’s Science To Achieve Results (STAR) Program. With the number of people living and working in the coastal zone increasing in the United States, pressures on these critical resources have increased correspondingly. The EaGLe Program was designed to develop a new generation of ecological indicators that could aid managers in determining the condition and diagnosing the cause of degradation in estuarine ecosystems (Niemi, et al., 2005). The ASC chose to extend investigations upstream of estuaries to include contributing watersheds.

The project study area is the Mid-Atlantic Slope (Figure 1), encompassing three major drainage basins that extend from the Appalachian Mountains to the Atlantic Ocean: the Delaware, the Susquehanna-Chesapeake, and the Albemarle-Pamlico. This area includes the District of Columbia and portions of the following eight states: Delaware, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and West Virginia. Aquatic resources in this area have been impacted heavily by urbanization, agricultural production, mining, and other human activities. Although much has been done to restore and protect freshwater and estuarine resources in this area, threats to life and health for both humans and other biota continue to be major issues of concern.

ASC Study Area—Mid-Atlantic Slope

Figure 1. ASC Study Area—Mid-Atlantic Slope

The goal of this research project was to develop a set of indicators for coastal systems that are ecologically appropriate, economically reasonable, and relevant to society to further inject science into natural resources management decisions. This suite of indicators can contribute to integrated assessments of the health and sustainability of aquatic ecosystems in the region. The indicators were developed based on ecological and socioeconomic information compiled at the scale of estuarine segments and small watersheds, with clear linkages to larger scales (Figure 2).

Conceptual Model for Purposes of Identifying Indicators

Figure 2. Conceptual Model for Purposes of Identifying Indicators

The specific objectives of this research project were to:

  • Develop and test ecological and socioeconomic indicators of aquatic resource condition; construct models that use environmental, geographic, and stressor data to predict indicator responses; and use models to link upstream watersheds and downstream estuaries.
  • Develop large-scale measures for characterizing landscape attributes and land-use patterns to serve as predictors of a range of environmental conditions.
  • Deliver a nested suite of indicators to managers, where the implications of aggregating models at various scales are considered and for which reliability is known.

Summary/Accomplishments (Outputs/Outcomes):

This is a summary of the project for posting on the Web. For a more detailed report, including additional figures, please see the “Integration of Ecological and Socioeconomic Indicators for Estuaries and Watersheds of the Atlantic Slope” report at http://www.asc.psu.edu/public/pubs/_Final%20Report_AtlanticSlopeConsortium.pdf (PDF, 96pp., 2.88MB, about PDF) exit EPA.

Conceptual Framework and Premises

This project was guided by a number of premises. Our first premise is that humans are part of, not apart from, coastal ecosystems and their watersheds. Individuals make choices concerning their use of private property based on their needs, desires, and perceptions. In a given community, watershed, or region, these collective decisions result in characteristic patterns of land use which we call social choices. These social choices can affect aquatic resources, which are common public resources available to all. Because society has designated the uses it wants for aquatic or public resources, government has been charged by society to attain and sustain these designated uses. We term these types of public decisions societal choices. When private social choices about land use affect the public’s designated uses (societal choices) by altering the condition of aquatic resources, conflicts can arise.

We addressed these issues based on our second premise, which was that it is not possible to describe a single reference condition for the varied landscapes contained within the watersheds and estuaries of the mid-Atlantic region. Land-use patterns are determined by both ecological and cultural factors, and these relationships vary across space and time. This means that there is no optimal management solution with universal applicability throughout the mid-Atlantic region. The options available to managers, therefore, are dependent on multiple benchmarks reflecting these varied landscapes that have evolved from social choices made over time by landowners (Hershner, et al., in press).

To decipher this variability, a classification system of landscape patterns emerged for watersheds and estuaries of the mid-Atlantic region based on six social choice categories: two forest types, two mixed land-use types, agriculture, and urban (Wardrop, et al., 2005). New methods, analytical techniques, and indicators developed during this project demonstrated that landscape patterns can be linked to the condition of aquatic resources, from headwaters to estuaries. Although there is no “best” landscape pattern that aligns with social or societal choices within watersheds, there are landscape patterns associated with nonattainment of designated uses for aquatic ecosystems.

A third premise guiding our search for indicators was that if they are to be useful, indicators must be practical. Part of the practicality of using indicators is helping managers choose among the many measurement techniques available. Through our surveys, we learned that environmental managers are not looking for a “silver bullet” but rather a suite of indicators to assess resources. We also learned that the perceptions of scientists, managers, and citizens about the condition of aquatic ecosystems can vary, which has implications about how indicator information should be communicated. The ASC developed a taxonomy that informs the user about the type of indicator, relevant spatial and temporal scales, and relevant questions being asked (Figure 3) (Wardrop, et al., in press). Thus, regardless of whether an indicator is being used to assess a biological, chemical, physical, geographic, or cultural attribute, or whether the timeframe of measurement is hours or years, the user can select the appropriate tool for the question being asked or the decision to be made. Being able to classify each indicator provides an improved level of certainty for the user.

Rather than let these indicators stand alone, we have produced a coherent conceptual framework that shows how the indicators can be useful to environmental managers and understandable to citizens. We have described this framework in Message 1 of the ASC Synthesis Report. This message is followed by Messages 2, 3, and 4, which present our findings about estuarine, watershed, and socioeconomic indicators, respectively. Environmental managers in the region now have a variety of indicators in their “tool box” to assess the condition of aquatic ecosystems.

Taxonomy of Ecological Indicators

Figure 3. Taxonomy of Ecological Indicators

Management Messages

Four important messages have come out of this project:

  • A taxonomy for classifying indicators based on the type of questions they can answer, what spatial and temporal scale they reflect, and the social choices they address helps resource managers choose indicators that are most appropriate for their use.
  • Estuarine fish and wetland bird community indicators conclusively demonstrated that both the amount of development in the watershed and its proximity to the estuary or wetland contribute to the condition of these aquatic resources. In general, the greater the amount of development and its proximity, the greater the degradation of aquatic resource condition.
  • Strong linkages were found not only between the amount of development and proximity on stream and wetland condition in small watersheds but also the patterns of land use.
  • Socioeconomic indicators can be combined with environmental indicators to show that most communities in the mid-Atlantic region do not have the quality of life possible, even when accounting for urban and rural differences.

Completing the Vision

We have made significant progress toward our goal of developing a suite of ecological and socioeconomic indicators for the aquatic ecosystems of the mid-Atlantic region. Yet, more work is needed. In particular, additional field studies and modeling efforts are needed to complete the linkage of regional headwaters to estuaries. The contributions of large rivers to material transport and processing and how receiving estuaries are affected by those inputs remain poorly understood and difficult to predict. In addition, sets of indicators that span the variations in salinity and depth across estuaries have not been developed sufficiently. As further development, testing, and implementation of indicators occur, these indicators can be classified using the taxonomy to ensure that the full range of indicator types are available to managers.

References:

Bricker SB, Clement CG, Pirhalla DE, Orlando SP, Farrow DRG. National estuarine eutrophication assessment: effects of nutrient enrichment in the Nation’s estuaries. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, National Ocean Service, Special Projects Office and the National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science, Silver Spring, MD, 1999.

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. National Coastal Condition Report II. Washington, DC: U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Office of Research and Development/Office of Water, Washington, DC, December 2004, EPA-620/R-03/002.


Journal Articles: 36 Displayed | Download in RIS Format

Other center views: All 158 publications 43 publications in selected types All 36 journal articles
Type Citation Sub Project Document Sources
Journal Article Baker ME, Weller DE, Jordan TE. Improved methods for quantifying potential nutrient interception by riparian buffers. Landscape Ecology 2006;21(8):1327-1345. R828684 (Final)
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  • Journal Article Baker ME, Weller DE, Jordan TE. Comparison of automated watershed delineations: effects on land cover areas, percentages, and relationships to nutrient discharge. Photogrammetric Engineering & Remote Sensing 2006;72(2):159-168. R828684C003 (Final)
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    Journal Article Baker ME, Weller DE, Jordan TE. Effects of stream map resolution on measures of riparian buffer distribution and nutrient retention potential. Landscape Ecology 2007;22(7):973-992. R828684 (Final)
    R831369 (2006)
    R831369 (Final)
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  • Journal Article Bilkovic DM, Roggero M, Hershner CH, Havens KH. Influence of land use on macrobenthic communities in nearshore estuarine habitats. Estuaries and Coasts 2006;29(6):1185-1195. R828684 (Final)
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  • Journal Article Borisova T, Shortle JS, Horan RD, Abler DG. The value of information for water quality protection. Water Resources Research 2005;41(6):W06004. R828684 (Final)
    R828684C004 (2003)
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    R828684C004 (Final)
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  • Journal Article Brooks R, McKenney-Easterling M, Brinson M, Rheinhardt R, Havens K, O'Brien D, Bishop J, Rubbo J, Armstrong B, Hite J. A Stream-Wetland-Riparian (SWR) index for assessing condition of aquatic ecosystems in small watersheds along the Atlantic slope of the eastern U.S. Environmental Monitoring and Assessment 2009;150(1-4):101-117. R828684 (Final)
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  • Journal Article DeLuca WV, Studds CE, Rockwood LL, Marra PP. Influence of land use on the integrity of marsh bird communities of Chesapeake Bay, USA. Wetlands 2004;24(4):837-847. R828684C001 (2004)
    R828684C001 (Final)
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    Journal Article DeLuca WV, Studds CE, King RS, Marra PP. Coastal urbanization and the integrity of estuarine waterbird communities: threshold responses and the importance of scale. Biological Conservation 2008;141(11):2669-2678. R828684 (Final)
  • Full-text: Science DIrect Full-text
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  • Journal Article Gallegos CL, Biber PD. Diagnostic tool help set water quality targets for restoring submerged aquatic vegetation in Chesapeake Bay. Ecological Restoration 2004;22(4):1441-1451 R828684C002 (2004)
    R828677C004 (2004)
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    Journal Article Gallegos CL, Jordan TE, Hines AH, Weller DE. Temporal variability of optical properties in a shallow, eutrophic estuary: seasonal and interannual variability. Estuarine Coastal and Shelf Science 2005;64(2-3):156-170. R828684 (Final)
    R828684C002 (2003)
  • Full-text: Science Direct - Full Text HTML
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  • Journal Article Goetz S, Fiske G. Linking the diversity and abundance of stream biota to landscapes in the mid-Atlantic USA. Remote Sensing of Environment 2008;112(11):4075-4085. R828684 (Final)
    R831369 (Final)
  • Full-text: Science Direct Full-text
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  • Abstract: Science Direct Abstract
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  • Journal Article Goetz SJ. Remote sensing of riparian buffers: past progress and future prospects. Journal of the American Water Resources Association 2006;42(1):133-143. R828684 (Final)
    R831369 (2006)
    R831369 (Final)
  • Abstract: Wiley
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  • Other: American Water Resources Association PDF
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  • Journal Article Hershner C, Havens K, Bilkovic DM, Wardrop D. Assessment of Chesapeake Bay program selection and use of indicators. EcoHealth 2007;4(2):187-193. R828684 (Final)
  • Abstract: Springer
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  • Journal Article Horan RD, Shortle JS, Abler DG. The coordination and design of point-nonpoint trading programs and agri-environmental policies. Agricultural and Resource Economics Review 2004;33(1):61-78. R828684 (Final)
    R828684C004 (2003)
  • Abstract: AgEcon Abstract
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  • Journal Article Horan RD, Shortle JS. When two wrongs make a right: second-best point-nonpoint trading ratios. American Journal of Agricultural Economics 2005;87(2):340-352. R828684 (Final)
    R828684C004 (2003)
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  • Journal Article Hychka KC, Wardrop DH, Brooks RP. Enhancing a landscape assessment with intensive data: a case study in the Upper Juniata watershed. Wetlands 2007;27(3):446-461. R828684 (Final)
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  • Journal Article King RS, Richardson CJ. Integrating bioassessment and ecological risk assessment: an approach to developing numerical water-quality criteria. Environmental Management 2003;31(6):795-809. R828684 (2002)
    R828684 (Final)
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  • Journal Article King RS, Beaman JR, Whigham DF, Hines AH, et al. Watershed land use is strongly linked to PCBs in white perch in Chesapeake Bay subestuaries. Environmental Science & Technology 2004;38(24):6546-6552. R828684C001 (2004)
    R828684C001 (Final)
  • Full-text: ACS Full Text
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  • Journal Article King RS, Baker ME, Whigham DF, Weller DE, Jordan TE, Kazyak PF, Hurd MK. Spatial considerations for linking watershed land cover to ecological indicators in streams. Ecological Applications 2005;15(1):137-153. R828684 (2002)
    R828684 (Final)
    R828684C001 (2004)
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  • Full-text: Baylor University PDF
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  • Journal Article King RS, Hines AH, Craige FD, Grap S. Regional, watershed, and local correlates of blue crab and bivalve abundances in subestuaries of Chesapeake Bay, USA. Journal of Experimental Marine Biology and Ecology 2005;319(1-2):101-116. R828684 (Final)
    R828684C001 (2003)
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    Journal Article King RS, Deluca WV, Whigham DF, Marra PP. Threshold effects of coastal urbanization on Phragmites australis (common reed) abundance and foliar nitrogen in Chesapeake Bay. Estuaries and Coasts 2007;30(3):469-481. R828684 (Final)
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  • Journal Article Marshall E, Shortle J. Using DEA and VEA to evaluate quality of life in the mid-Atlantic states. Agriculture and Resource Economics Review 2005;34(2):185-203. R828684C004 (Final)
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    Journal Article McElfish Jr. JM, Varnell LM. Designing environmental indicator systems for public decisions. Columbia Journal of Environmental Law 2006;31(1):45-86. R828684C004 (2004)
    R828684C004 (Final)
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  • Journal Article Myers WL, McKenney-Easterling M, Hychka K, Griscom B, Bishop JA, Bayard A, Rocco GL, Brooks RP, Constantz G, Patil GP, Taillie C. Contextual clustering for configuring collaborative conservation of watersheds in the Mid-Atlantic Highlands. Environmental and Ecological Statistics 2006;13(4):391-407. R828684 (Final)
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  • Journal Article Myers WL, Kurihara K, Patil GP, Vraney R. Finding upper-level sets in cellular surface data using echelons and saTScan. Environmental and Ecological Statistics 2006;13(4):379-390. R828684 (Final)
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  • Journal Article Niemi G, Wardrop D, Brooks R, Anderson S, Brady V, Paerl H , Rakocinski C, Brouwer M, Levinson B, McDonald M. Rationale for a new generation of indicators for coastal waters. Environmental Health Perspectives 2004;112(9):979-986. R828684 (Final)
    R828675 (2004)
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    R828677C001 (Final)
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  • Full-text: EHP - Full Text HTML
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  • Journal Article Patil GP, Brooks RP, Myers WL, Rapport DJ, Taillie C. Ecosystem health and its measurement at landscape scale: toward the next generation of quantitative assessments. Ecosystem Health 2001;7(4):307-316. R828684 (2002)
    R828684 (Final)
    R828684C003 (2002)
  • Abstract: Wiley InterScience Abstract
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  • Other: Ecosystem Health Full-text pdf
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  • Journal Article Patil GP, Bishop JA, Myers WL, Taillie C, Vraney R, Wardrop D. Detection and delineation of critical areas using echelons and spatial scan statistics with synoptic cellular data. Environmental and Ecological Statistics 2004;11(2):139-164. R828684 (Final)
    R828684C003 (2003)
  • Full-text: IngentaConnect
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  • Abstract: Springer Abstract
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  • Journal Article Patil GP, Taillie C. Multiple indicators, partially ordered sets, and linear extensions:multi-criterion ranking and prioritization. Environmental and Ecological Statistics 2004;11(2):199-228. R828684 (Final)
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  • Other: Environmental and Ecological Statistics pdf
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  • Journal Article Patil GP, Taillie C. Upper level set scan statistic for detecting arbitrarily shaped hotspots. Environmental and Ecological Statistics 2004;11(2):183-197. R828684 (Final)
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  • Other: Environmental and Ecological Statistics
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  • Journal Article Ranjan R, Marshall L, Shortle J. Optimal renewable resource management in the presence of endogenous risk of invasion. Environmental and Resource Economics 2008;89(4):273-283. R828684 (Final)
    R828684C004 (2003)
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  • Journal Article Rheinhardt RD, Brinson MM, Christian RR, Miller KH, Meyer GF. A reference-based framework for evaluating the ecological condition of stream networks in small watersheds. Wetlands 2007;27(3):524-542. R828684 (Final)
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  • Journal Article Rheinhardt RD, McKenney-Easterling M, Brinson MM, Masina-Rubbo J, Brooks RP, Whigham DF, O'Brien D, Hite JT, Armstrong BK. Canopy composition and forest structure provide restoration targets for low-order riparian ecosystems. Restoration Ecology 2009;17(1):51-59. R828684 (Final)
  • Abstract: Ingenta Connect
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  • Journal Article Rheinhardt R, Brinson M, Brooks R, McKenney-Easterling M, Rubbo JM, Hite J, Armstrong B. Development of a reference-based method for identifying and scoring indicators of condition for coastal plain riparian reaches. Ecological Indicators 2007;7(2):339-361. R828684 (Final)
  • Full-text: Science Direct Full-text
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  • Journal Article Theobald DM, Goetz SJ, Norman JB, Jantz P. Watersheds at risk to increased impervious surface cover in the conterminous United States. Journal of Hydrologic Engineering 2009;14(4):362-368. R828684 (Final)
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  • Journal Article Wardrop DH, Bishop JA, Easterling M, Hychka K, Myers W, Patil GP, Taillie C. Use of landscape and land use parameters for classification and characterization of watersheds in the mid-Atlantic across five physiographic provinces. Environmental and Ecological Statistics 2005;12(2):209-223. R828684 (2002)
    R828684 (Final)
    R828684C003 (2003)
    R828684C003 (2004)
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  • Supplemental Keywords:

    indicators, integrated assessment, wetland, stream, estuary, watershed, biological integrity, decisionmaking, ecosystem, environmental exposure and risk, geographic area, ecology, ecosystem indicators, bioindicators, land use, mid-Atlantic, hydrology, estuarine ecosystems,, RFA, Scientific Discipline, Geographic Area, Waste, Water, Ecosystem Protection/Environmental Exposure & Risk, Hydrology, Nutrients, Contaminated Sediments, Wastewater, Ecosystem/Assessment/Indicators, Ecosystem Protection, Economics, Ecological Effects - Environmental Exposure & Risk, Mid-Atlantic, Ecological Risk Assessment, Ecology and Ecosystems, Biology, Ecological Indicators, remote sensing, coastal ecosystem, aquatic ecosystem, bioindicator, degradation, ecological exposure, ecosystem assessment, watersheds, aquatic biota , contaminated sediment, socioeconomics, biomonitoring, ecological assessment, estuarine ecosystems, integrated assessment, nutrient stress, ecosystem indicators, Atlantic Slope Consortium, aquatic ecosystems, environmental stress, integrative indicators, water quality, bioindicators, ecosystem stress

    Relevant Websites:

    http://www.asc.psu.edu/ exit EPA
    http://www.asc.psu.edu/public/pubs/_Final%20Report_AtlanticSlopeConsortium.pdfexit EPA (PDF, 96pp., 2.88MB, about PDF) exit EPA
    https://cfpub.epa.gov/ncer_abstracts/index.cfm/fuseaction/display.files/fileID/7680 (PDF) (8 pp, 3.4MB, about PDF)

    Progress and Final Reports:

    Original Abstract
  • 2001 Progress Report
  • 2002 Progress Report
  • 2003 Progress Report
  • 2004 Progress Report
  • Subprojects under this Center: (EPA does not fund or establish subprojects; EPA awards and manages the overall grant for this center).
    R828684C001 Integrated Assessment of Estuarine Ecosystems
    R828684C002 Development of an Optical Indicator of Habitat Suitability for Submersed Aquatic Vegetation
    R828684C003 Integrated Assessment of Watersheds
    R828684C004 Socioeconomic and Institutional Research