S.C. Sea Grant Consortium member institutions are The Citadel, Clemson University, Coastal Carolina University, College of Charleston, Medical University of South Carolina, South Carolina State University, S.C. Department of Natural Resources, and the University of South Carolina. In addition, the Consortium partners with well over 100 federal and state agencies, local governments and communities, the private sector, and the public to leverage funds and facilitate information exchange among a variety of stakeholders.
The agency's mission is to generate and apply science-based information on issues and opportunities that enhance the practical use and conservation of coastal and marine resources to foster a sustainable economy and environment. Its mission is achieved by working with scientists at leading research institutions across the state, serving as a broker of funding and providing essential information to coastal resource managers, policymakers, business and industry, and the public.
Scientists work to understand water-quality anomaly
In 2004, anglers were startled by unusually large catches of flounder in the waters off the Myrtle Beach area, which oceanographers call Long Bay, in the northern coastal ocean of South Carolina. The problem with this flounder "jubilee" was that low-oxygen levels in the water had created a "dead zone" that drove fish toward the shoreline. What caused this low-oxygen-or hypoxic-event in the first place?
"The 2004 hypoxia event was a surprise," says Denise Sanger, assistant director for research and planning with the S.C. Sea Grant Consortium. "We had not seen this kind of oceanographic dead zone in South Carolina before."
In a series of research projects sponsored by the Consortium, S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control-Office of Ocean and Coastal Resource Management, and S.C. Department of Natural Resources, scientists are studying physical, biological, chemical, and geological coastal-ocean processes in Long Bay.
South Carolina resource managers and scientists, including Sanger, have assembled a Long Bay Working Group to collaborate on research efforts and understand the causes of the hypoxic event.
It seems that a series of oceanographic conditions in Long Bay (oscillatory wind stress, upwelling, and hot summer weather) in 2004 stratified the water column near the coast, causing the flounder jubilee. Cold water along the ocean bottom was not mixing with warmer surface water, reducing oxygen levels. These conditions, plus the contribution of nutrients in stormwater runoff and groundwater discharge, apparently led to low-oxygen events in Long Bay.
"We have learned a great deal about the Long Bay system," says Sanger. "In recent years, we have not observed another long-term hypoxic event like the one in 2004. But periodically we are seeing additional low dissolved-oxygen conditions in this environment, and that's unusual. The levels observed are similar to low dissolved-oxygen that we observe in the naturally stressful, small estuarine headwater creeks. Now we're finding these conditions in Long Bay just beyond the surf zone, despite strong currents and waves."
The goal of the S.C. Sea Grant Consortium research effort is to develop tools for future use in forecasting hypoxic events in Long Bay. The research results will be of interest to coastal and fishery managers and local communities.
Consortium researcher George Voulgaris of the University of South Carolina (USC) has developed a high-resolution numerical circulation model for Long Bay. The model is being used to identify the physical scenarios under which low-oxygen events can occur.
In a related study, Eric Koepfler and his colleagues at Coastal Carolina University (CCU) and USC are evaluating the potential and relative roles of marine and terrestrial factors that can affect oxygen levels in Long Bay.
The two studies could provide insights into threshold conditions of future hypoxic events. And they would help identify relative significance of oceanic conditions and human-made sources of nutrients. This information has been identified as critically important by the state's coastal-zone management program, which funded the first years of these studies.
Moreover, Richard Viso of CCU is conducting research to identify groundwater seep locations along the shelf waters of Long Bay. The information will enable researchers to conduct fieldwork to quantify submarine groundwater discharge, and the contribution of that discharge to water-quality issues, a valuable component to understanding the nutrient fluxes and pollutant transport.
These research projects have fostered additional efforts, including research by Viso to evaluate the contribution of groundwater discharge to water-quality issues and two pilot studies using autonomous underwater vehicles (AUVs) to validate and expand the findings of Voulgaris and Koepfler.
In addition, the S.C. Department of Natural Resources has funded a study by Susan Libes of CCU to monitor the surface and bottom dissolved-oxygen levels, among other parameters, at Apache Pier on the Grand Strand. This information is providing continuous measurements of the conditions in the area, which researchers have not had in the past.
To learn more about the Long Bay Working Group, contact Denise Sanger, assistant director for research and planning, at (843) 953-2078.
Regional climate outreach program engages coastal communities
What is the difference between weather and climate? How does climate affect water resources? How can we use information about the climate to reduce damages from coastal storms? These are the types of questions Jessica Whitehead, regional climate specialist, provides answers for to help coastal communities understand and prepare for climate change.
Based in Charleston, S.C., Jessica's position is jointly managed by the S.C. Sea Grant Consortium and N.C. Sea Grant, with assistance from the Carolinas Integrated Sciences and Assessment (CISA) project at the University of South Carolina. This "Carolinas" regional climate outreach program is a collaboration of the National Sea Grant College Program Office and the NOAA Climate Program Office. The collaboration could lead to the establishment of regional Sea Grant climate extension programs throughout the nation.
As a part of this Regional Coastal Climate Change Initiative, Whitehead is developing outreach programs for decision-makers along the South Carolina and North Carolina coasts to provide them with tailored, decision-relevant information about the impacts of climate variability and long-term climate change on coastal areas.
Jessica's current efforts include conducting a needs assessment for potential information users that will help Sea Grant determine what decision-makers need to understand about climate. She is also developing a series of "Frequently Asked Questions" (FAQ) fact sheets designed to answer decision-makers' questions about climate science and the impacts of climate variability and change at a general audience level. These FAQ fact sheets will be available on both the S.C. Sea Grant Consortium and N.C. Sea Grant Web sites. Additionally, Jessica is assisting with CISA research efforts and the grassroots effort to establish a national Sea Grant climate extension network.
Jessica authors a Coastal Climate Extension weblog, which serves as a supplemental information source that engages other Sea Grant personnel with the evolution of a climate extension program and allows them to apply lessons learned to their own regions. And since coastal stakeholders are accustomed to accessing climate-related information via the Internet, the blog provides a convenient place to house climate-science knowledge while raising awareness of available climate extension programming.
"People can continue to debate about the causes, but the fact is that the climate as humans know it is changing," Jessica said. "As the population along the North and South Carolina coasts grows, it becomes even more important that we address the impacts natural climate variability and human-induced climate change will have on our lives. My purpose is to make climate science useful and relevant to coastal users. At the end of the day, if elected officials or business owners can understand more about hurricane intensity or sea-level rise and then tell me what they need to do to minimize those impacts on their beaches or maximize benefits that increase their profits, then I will have done my job."
To learn more about regional climate outreach in the Carolinas, contact Jessica Whitehead at (843) 727-6498.
Web portal brings training opportunities and educational resources to coastal community officials and the public
The S.C. Coastal Information Network Web Portal is a one-stop information resource for workshops, presentations, and specialized training opportunities available to coastal decision-makers, community planners, local officials, and the public. The calendar-based portal allows users to search for events by date, topic, location, and target audience. The Web site also lists community events in coastal South Carolina and has downloadable research and education resources that can be searched by keyword or category. Categories of events include beach management, resource conservation, climate change, and coastal development.
The S.C. Coastal Information Network emerged as a result of a number of coastal outreach institutions working in partnership to enhance coordination of the coastal community outreach efforts in South Carolina. This organized effort, led by the S.C. Sea Grant Extension Program, includes partners from federal and state agencies, regional government agencies, and private organizations seeking to coordinate and/or jointly deliver outreach programs that target coastal community constituents. The Network was officially formed in 2006 to foster intra-agency communication, coordination, and cooperation, with an overall goal of maximizing the efficient delivery of quality training and educational materials. The project began in order to avoid duplicative efforts, minimize the number of meetings/workshops that community leaders and staff are asked to attend, leverage scarce resources, and maximize program benefits and expected outcomes.
To facilitate communication and coordination, Network partners first created a member listserv and developed a database of projects, programs, workshops, and other outreach events. The database of projects was then developed into a Web site with a searchable calendar of outreach events for the eight coastal counties in South Carolina. The Web site has since been expanded to include a resource portal of outreach and research materials provided by each Network partner and accessible by same search function as the events calendar. The S.C. Coastal Information Network Web site prototype has generated interest from other state and federal agencies that want to develop a similar network based on the South Carolina model.
The Network consists of outreach personnel from state and federal agencies, universities, councils of governments, and sustainable development organizations. Partners include the S.C. Sea Grant Consortium, S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control (SCDHEC) - SCDHEC Office of Ocean and Coastal Resource Management and SCDHEC Bureau of Water, S.C. Department of Natural Resources - ACE Basin National Estuarine Research Reserve, North Inlet-Winyah Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve, Clemson University Cooperative Extension Service, Berkeley-Charleston-Dorchester Council of Governments, Waccamaw Regional Council of Governments, Ashley-Cooper Stormwater Education Consortium, Coastal Waccamaw Stormwater Education Consortium, Urban Land Institute of South Carolina, Michaux Conservancy, S.C. Department of Archives and History, U.S. Green Building Council-South Carolina Chapter, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) - NOAA Coastal Services Center and NOAA Hollings Marine Laboratory.
The S.C. Coastal Information Network partners are currently collaborating on a workshop titled, "South Carolina's Changing Shoreline: Implications for the Future," which will present the status of climate change - including sea-level rise and shoreline change-to community officials, natural resource managers, and public health personnel. The workshops will be held in three locations along the South Carolina coast and are tentatively scheduled for fall 2009.
For more information about the Network, contact April Turner, coastal communities extension specialist, at (843) 953-2078.