Will Work for Water

Water is vital to the survival of all species on earth, including humans, so protecting and preserving our largest natural sources of water—lakes, oceans, rivers, and other marine areas—is of paramount importance.

That’s why, fifty years ago, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) formed the National Sea Grant College Program, a national network of colleges and universities, including Penn State, that conducts research and promotes education, training, and extension projects geared toward the conservation and practical use of the country’s coastal areas, Great Lakes, and other marine zones.

Pennsylvania’s Sea Grant program, formed in 1998 and granted Sea Grant College status in 2016, is based at Penn State Behrend. The program focuses its efforts on three diverse coastal regions in the Commonwealth: Lake Erie, the Delaware River, and the Susquehanna River.

Supporting Research

Pennsylvania Sea Grant not only conducts research, it funds it.

Dr. Tony Foyle, associate professor of geology, and Dr. Mike Naber, associate teaching professor of geosciences, are finishing a three-year research project studying bluff erosion along Lake Erie’s shoreline. Foyle and Naber are working with Dr. Sean Rafferty, research director and associate director of Pennsylvania Sea Grant, to calculate the rate at which the bluff is receding and identify the factors that influence bluff recession.

All of their findings will be posted on the Pennsylvania Lake Erie Watershed Water and Land Technical Resources (WALTeR) website, which was developed by Dr. Kathy Noce, teaching professor of management information systems, and Penn State Behrend Information Technology Services members. WALTeR serves as a portal for Pennsylvania Great Lakesrelated data, studies, and spatial information.

With an estimated 40 percent of the U.S. population now living in coastal communities, there’s a lot to lose when chunks of land are falling into the water. “Tax base and tourism dollars, not to mention scenery,” Foyle said.

“Bluff retreat is a major coastal hazard affecting over $66 million worth of property along all nine municipalities in Erie County,” Foyle said. “Also, when parts of the earth slough off into the lake, how does that impact coastal water quality?”

It’s a question that Foyle plans to explore further with Dr. Mike Rutter, associate professor of statistics and assistant director of the School of Science, and Dr. Karen Schuckman, assistant teaching professor at University Park’s College of Earth and Mineral Sciences. The three were recently awarded a $125,000 grant from Pennsylvania Sea Grant to continue studying bluff change.

Dr. Mike Campbell, professor of biology and director of the Lake Erie Regional Grape Research and Extension Center (LERGREC), is also leading a Sea Grant-funded project in partnership with the Penn State College of Agriculture.

“The funds are being used to support student researchers who are analyzing climate data that has been collected at LERGREC since 1948,” said Campbell. “They have already been able to show that winters along Lake Erie have changed as the result of warmer autumn weather.”

Initiating Research

Pennsylvania Sea Grant was recently awarded an $800,000 grant from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to support a two-year effort to control and prevent the spread of aquatic invasive species (AIS) across Pennsylvania, with an emphasis on the Lake Erie Basin.

“This funding is critical to preventing the introduction and spread of aquatic invasive species in Pennsylvania,” said Sarah Whitney, director of Pennsylvania Sea Grant. “It will enable us to work on different aspects of the issue, including prevention, early detection, rapid response, and control of aquatic invasive species.”

The funds will allow Pennsylvania Sea Grant to develop a consistent and coordinated approach to controlling aquatic invasive species outbreaks across the state by training resource managers to implement Pennsylvania’s AIS Rapid Response Plan.

Some of the money will be used for the continued development of an online database and mapping program that will record aquatic invasive species threats across the Great Lakes watersheds. Sea Grant also plans to develop an app for Pennsylvania’s Field Guide to Aquatic Invasive Species, a mobile companion to a printed guide it developed 2013.

It will be money well spent as nearly 200 invasive species already have been found in the Great Lakes, from zebra and quagga mussels to round gobies and starry stonewort. A new invasive species appears in the watershed every six to eight months.