research on waquoit bayResearch Focus Areas

The Research Coordinator stays abreast of NERRS research goals, priorities, and focus areas. The Coastal Training Program , through formal and informal needs assessments, identifies critical coastal resource management concerns. Using this knowledge, and  through literature reviews and regular dialogue among researchers, resource managers, and representatives of coastal communities, the Reserve identifies and prioritizes research topics. Informal discussions also occur on a regular basis, allowing research priorities to evolve in an organic and often rapidly changing manner. This combination of critical thought and flexibility to respond to emerging issues allows the Reserve to catalog research needs on an ongoing basis. Current priorities for research at the Reserve are:

  • Characterization of the Waquoit Bay estuarine system as it exists today and its evolution over time, including its natural variability and impacts from human activities.
  • The response of coastal environments to:
  • Climate change, sea level rise and storm events
  • Watershed change and variability and inputs such as excess nutrients and other contaminants
  • Ocean and Shelf change and variability such as ocean-acidification and invasive species
  •   Environmental services provided by estuarine habitats and ecosystems

Research Gaps
A key aspect of the Reserve’s research program is the provision of a rich set of environmental and societal data regarding Waquoit Bay and its watershed. These data establish a broad and detailed context for scientific studies. Knowledge of the Bay is, nonetheless, incomplete. Gaps in knowledge are often identified suddenly when a researcher or coastal manager addresses a new question or problem. These gaps serve as foci for future research. The Reserve’s responsiveness to filling these gaps, once identified, is a key ingredient to the Reserve’s success. A partial list of the currently recognized gaps is included here.

  • High-resolution digital bathymetry for all components of Waquoit Bay estuarine system (Digital Basin Model).
  • Sub-surface geology and Holocene evolution  of the Waquoit Bay estuarine system, including:
  • A detailed and precise sea level rise history
  • Evolution of its barrier beach system
  • Sedimentation history in Waquoit Bay.
  •  Land-cover and land-use history in Waquoit Bay watershed prior to 1950.
  • Sub-tidal habitat changes in Waquoit Bay prior to 1950.
  • Water quality / eutrophication history in Waquoit Bay prior to 1994.
  • Estuarine faunal and floral population changes in Waquoit Bay and its watershed, including invasive species.
  • Microbial ecosystems of the subterranean estuarine environment, in particular at the fresh groundwater / salt estuarine water interface zone.
  • Variation of conditions in the fresh groundwater / salt estuarine water interface zone.
  • Ocean and Shelf variability and its impacts on Waquoit Bay
  • Hydrodynamic model(s) for Waquoit Bay and Vineyard Sound, including  stratification, wind and tides.
  • Harmonic characterization of Waquoit Bay tides (Local Tidal Model) and accurate forecast tide table
  • Hydrodynamic models of Waquoit Bay salt marshes, including sheet flow through vegetation.
  • Wave-environment and characterization within Waquoit Bay and adjacent Vineyard Sound.
  • Sediment transport along Reserve’s Vineyard Sound shoreline.
  • Variations in groundwater levels in Waquoit Bay watershed and inflow rates to Waquoit Bay system.
  • Variations in surface fresh water flow from all major creeks and rivers to Waquoit Bay.
  • Social history of Waquoit history including  (e.g., economic and maritime activities, alterations to its shoreline, dredging, etc.)