July 2017: Snapshots from the 2017 Field Season

Water Quality Monitoring Lab at the Jackson Estuarine Laboratory

Summer has arrived and that means the arrival of the field research season for our research partners and citizen scientists. In some cases, PREP funds data collection and monitoring activities; however, data for many of the 23 indicators in the State of Our Estuaries report are provided by partner organizations. Our partners are our eyes and ears on the Great Bay and Hampton-Seabrook estuaries. But what does the 2017 field season look like? PREP had the opportunity to join some of our partners on the water for a close look at a “day in the field” on the Great Bay Estuary. Below is a summary of a few of the many projects that are conducted on the Great Bay Estuary throughout the field season.

Water Quality Monitoring

Tom Gregory and his team at the Jackson Estuarine Laboratory provided PREP with a first-hand experience of “a day in the field” on the Great Bay Estuary at the end of June to learn about the datasondes water quality monitoring program.

Tom Gregory explaining components of the water quality monitoring program (photo: Emily Lord)


Datasonde in the Jackson Estuarine Laboratory (photo: Emily Lord)
Inside look at a datasonde showing the different sensors (photo: Emily Lord)

The datasonde program is primarily supported through the Great Bay NERR System-wide Monitoring Program (SWMP), and PREP funding allows for additional deployments at the Coastal Marine Laboratory (year-round) and Salmon Falls River (summer only) to collect data and monitoring water temperature, salinity, dissolved oxygen, turbidity, and pH.

What a datasonde site looks like in the field (photo: Emily Lord)
Tom Gregory collecting a water sample with a niskin bottle at one of the datasonde locations in the Great Bay Estuary (photo: Emily Lord)

Exciting news for the 2017 field season: New datasondes are being added to the region’s monitoring program. Initial funding for the new datasondes was provided by a one-time capital expenditure from the NH Legislature, and PREP provides some of the funding for data collection and operations and maintenance, additional funding comes from municipalities and NH DES. New datasondes are being deployed in Hampton Harbor, the western lobe of Great Bay, Little Bay, the lower Piscataqua River, the Bellamy River, and the Cocheco River. These additional datasondes will increase our spatial extent of data collection across both the Great Bay and Hampton-Seabrook estuaries.

Oysters – Remote Setting

Dr. Ray Grizzle and Krystin Ward at the Jackson Estuarine Laboratory (UNH), in collaboration with The Nature Conservancy, have been working on remote setting for oysters. Oyster larvae – from Muscongus Bay Aquaculture in Maine – is placed in four large setting tanks and will set on recycled oyster shells from the shell recycling program.


8 million oyster larvae used for remote setting at Jackson Estuarine Laboratory (photo: Krystin Ward)
Recycled oyster shell in setting tanks for larvae (photo: Krystin Ward)

After spending about a week in tanks and once the larvae set they are transferred to a nursery rafts just off the shores of the Jackson Estuarine Laboratory.

Oyster spat-on-shell (photo: Krystin Ward)
UNH Coastal Research Volunteers measuring spat-on-shell on the nursery raft (photo: Krystin Ward)

Once the oysters are big enough to avoid predation, spat-on-shell is emptied from the cages and placed on recently restored sites where clam shell has already been placed on the bottom using a spud barge (Riverside and Pickering Maine). This clam shell will continue to act as “cultch” each year for spawning oysters from nearby naturally recurring reefs.

Barge transferring clam shell to bottom (photo: Krystin Ward)

Eelgrass Mapping

The eelgrass habitat monitoring program will continue in 2017. This is the 34th year in a row (going back to 1980) that the Great Bay proper has been mapped using aerial photography, and it is the 19th year in a row that the entire estuary has been mapped, starting in 1999. The first year of mapping for the entire estuary—using ortho-rectified photography—was in 1996, but only the Great Bay proper was mapped in 1997 and 1998.


Eelgrass in the Great Bay Estuary at low tide (photo: Ru Morrison)
Mapping has been done by Dr. Fred Short of the UNH Jackson Estuarine Laboratory since 1986. In 2013, both Fred Short and Seth Barker, a consultant from Maine, mapped the estuary. In 2017, Seth Barker will again provide mapping services, using photography and ortho-rectification services provided by Kappa Mapping, Inc., also of Maine.The protocol for using the aerial photography to map eelgrass habitat involves rigorous groundtruthing to match visual signatures in the photography with accurate assessments of habitat distribution. In some cases, it can be difficult to distinguish eelgrass from seaweed.


Seth Barker works with Kappa Mapping, Inc. to describe distribution of eelgrass in the Great Bay Estuary. Here he is talking with Dr.  David Burdick (Jackson Estuarine Laboratory) about distinguishing eelgrass from seaweed (photo: Kalle Matso)
Seth Barker using a video camera that can be towed at low speeds behind the boat to map eelgrass beds (photo: Kalle Matso)

These are just a few of the monitoring and research projects that occur on the Great Bay Estuary. Keep an eye out as you drive over Scammel Bridge on Route 4 and over the General Sullivan bridge across Little Bay – you might see some projects in action!

PREP is part of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s National Estuary Program, a joint program between local, state and federal agencies established under the Clean Water Act with the goal of protecting and enhancing nationally significant estuarine resources. PREP is supported in part by an EPA matching grant and is housed within the School of Marine Science and Ocean Engineering at the University of New Hampshire.

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