University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science's Best of 2017

December 22, 2017

2017 was a year of progress at the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science. We welcomed a new president after our long-time leader stepped down and our latest report card showed the health of the Chesapeake Bay continues to improve. As always, our scientists were steadfast in their continued efforts to lead, innovate, and educate, resulting in more highly regarded research and well-deserved awards. Faculty and students alike committed to more opportunities to communicate their science and share their passion to help others understand why they do what they do and why it matters.

To celebrate another great year, we collected our 12 biggest milestones to share with you. Here are our biggest news stories and your most read, watched and visited features, projects and videos.

1. Peter Goodwin named president of University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science

The University System of Maryland (USM) Board of Regents appointed Peter Goodwin, Ph.D., as president of the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science (UMCES). He joined UMCES in September.

“I am delighted to be joining the outstanding group of researchers and staff at UMCES,” Goodwin said. “I value the opportunity to honor the strong legacy of UMCES and its collaborations across the state to support Maryland, as well as growing UMCES scientific collaborations throughout the United States and globally.”

Goodwin succeeded Don Boesch, who has led UMCES as president since 1990 and announced in September 2016 that he will step down in late 2017.

Meet the President: Read our Q&A with Dr. Goodwin.

2. First summer of DolphinWatch

Dolphins are more frequently spending their summers in Chesapeake. At least that’s the story Dr. Helen Bailey kept hearing, but the ecologist with a long history in studying these aquatic animals wanted more than anecdotal evidence.

With funding support from the Chesapeake Bay Trust, Bailey created Chesapeake DolphinWatch, a research project aimed at answering some of her lingering questions about dolphins in the Bay. At the heart of the project is a web-based application that allows members of the public to report dolphin sightings in the Bay with the touch of a finger.
“The more eyes we have on the water the better to report dolphin sightings. We think that citizens can make very good citizen scientists,” Bailey said.

Between June and September, the app received more than 900 reported sightings from 1,500 users. Bailey plans to continue the project next summer. Until then, she hopes to launch a mobile app to encourage more sightings, and needs new hydrophones to pick up dolphin sounds and to repair the ones we have.

See what the DolphinWatch has discovered so far: View pictures and videos from the project’s citizen scientists.

3. Climate change already affecting Chesapeake Bay region

Victoria Coles and Raleigh Hood, two research professors from Horn Point Laboratory, and postdoctoral scholar Kari St.Laurent had data they knew represented evidence of climate change in the Chesapeake Bay region. They wanted to use it to tell a story of climate change in the region that people can understand. The overall goal was to help residents of the Bay region understand what’s happening in their backyard, as well as governing officials to help drive policy and action.

“Organisms and people feel weather; they don’t really feel climate,” Coles said. “Climate dictates what your annual average fuel bill is maybe, but it’s the weather events that you’re actually experiencing and those weather events are changing. Those are things that people notice.”

Here’s what they discovered about climate change in Chesapeake Bay:

  • The number of days where the maximum temperature is higher than 77 degrees is growing with the southern Chesapeake Bay experiencing almost 40 more summer days each year than it did 100 years ago.
  • There are fewer days in the year when the low temperature is less than 0 degrees.
  • The Bay region is seeing more precipitation with each passing decade, receiving 2 to 7 more inches of precipitation per year than it did a century ago, in the northern and southern Bay respectively.
  • Over 100 years, growing seasons have lengthened by 20 days in the northern Bay, and 40 days in the southern Bay.

Learn how these environmental changes affect you: Read the scientists' story.

4. Discovering the Chesapeake

The scientists at the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science have a deep understanding of Chesapeake Bay and its watershed, its value to the region, and by extension, to the public. Studying its rises and falls, its comebacks and creatures, has helped them to recommend best management practices to natural resource managers and elected officials that serve our region, and have made our efforts in restoration world renowned. Each week throughout the summer, we invited the public to discover the Bay through the eyes of our scientists with a YouTube series called “Discovering the Chesapeake.” Our scientists talked about research studies they’re proud of and the impact they made, popular and oft-overlooked creatures that live in the Bay, and even the marvels of the Bay that have impacted them after years of research in the Chesapeake Bay’s waters and watershed.

Discover the Chesapeake: Watch our summer video series.

5. Report card shows progress in Bay's health

The overall health of Chesapeake Bay improved in 2016, a positive sign that recovery efforts are working. The largest estuary in the nation scored a C grade (54%) in the 2016 report card, one of the highest scores calculated by scientists at the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science. While only a slight improvement, it’s encouraging that the overall health remained steady despite many pressures on the Chesapeake Bay and across its watershed. In addition, fish populations greatly improved to an A (90%).

“We are happy to see that our beloved Chesapeake Bay continues its recovery. These scientifically rigorous report card results are telling us that we are indeed heading in the right direction,” said Dr. Bill Dennison, vice president for science application. “We still have a long way to go to fully restoring the Bay, so we need to have our diverse partnerships of people and organizations continue to work together to reduce the runoff of sediments and nutrients into the Bay.”

How healthy is your Chesapeake Bay? View the 2016 Chesapeake Bay Report Card.

6. Standout students

At the fourth annual commencement, students were charged to “solve the unsolvable, shape the future, and you will continue to make your UMCES family of faculty, staff, students and alumni proud.” Students, faculty, administrators, and family members gathered for an outdoor ceremony at Appalachian Laboratory in Frostburg. Nine students participated in the ceremony, though a total 18 students earned their doctorate or master's degrees for the 2016-2017 school year.

Three of the graduates, Yini Shangguan of Horn Point Laboratory and Aimee Hoover and Stephen Gray Redding of Chesapeake Biological Laboratory, were part of a group of five graduate students selected as 2017 Knauss Marine Policy Fellows through Maryland Sea Grant.

To close the ceremony, students were advised: “Conduct your research, conduct your professional activities with the highest level of integrity – it’s never been more important than in these times. Always keep an open mind for new explanations and ideas. Work together effectively and innovatively across disciplines. Forever remember that our privilege to do science is based fundamentally on the service of that science to society.”

Get to know our current students and alumni: Visit Student Stories and Alumni Profiles.

7. A winning team

Many of our scientists were recognized this year for their work and leadership in environmental science.

  • Bill Dennison, professor and vice president for science application, won the inaugural Margaret A. Davidson Award for Stewardship from the Coastal and Estuarine Research Federation for his professional contributions to the estuarine scientific community.
  • Mario Tamburri, research professor at the Chesapeake Biological Laboratory and director of the Alliance for Coastal Technologies and the Maritime Environmental Resource Center, received a University System of Maryland Regents’ Faculty Award for Excellence in Public Service, the highest honor to recognize exemplary faculty achievement. An expert in coastal observing systems, Tamburri was recognized for applying innovative and well-tested environmental sensor technologies to monitor water quality and working to reduce the risk of invasive species through maritime transportation.
  • Walter Boynton, professor emeritus at Chesapeake Biological Laboratory, won the Carl S. Weber Award from the Maryland Water Monitoring Council for his monitoring work, which pooled data that could explain the health of the Chesapeake Bay.
  • Qian Zhang, an UMCES student-turned-data analyst, received the Innovyze Excellence in Computational Hydraulics/Hydrology Award or his dissertation that examined progress to reduce nutrient pollution in the Chesapeake Bay.
  • Cat Stylinski, the senior agent at Appalachian Laboratory, won the President’s Award for Excellence in Application of Science, for her outstanding work in science communication and education.
  • Rose Jagus, a professor at the Institute of Marine and Environmental Technology, earned the Wilson H. Elkins Professorship by the University System of Maryland for her contributions to increasing the diversity of scientists working in the marine sciences.
  • Margaret Palmer, former Chesapeake Biological Laboratory director and SESYNC director, was announced the 2017 Ruth Patrick Award recipient by the Association for the Sciences of Limnology and Oceanography for being a champion of solution-driven science for the protection of freshwaters.  

Paying it forward: We also honored members of the community who dedicated their lives to help the environment: In April, Appalachian Laboratory gave its annual Johnson Award to Dr. Charles Hager, and in June, Horn Point Laboratory named Jim Brighton of the Maryland BioDiversity Project its Chesapeake Champion.

8. Working local, thinking global

Two Appalachian Laboratory professors are leading an effort to build a sustainable agriculture matrix as part of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals.

As food production has grown to meet demand, agricultural nitrogen use has increased, but excessive nitrogen use can be damaging to the environment. There is no universal grading system to help countries measure how well they limit environmental impacts when they are trying to meet demands in food production. That’s where Appalachian Laboratory’s Xin Zhang and Eric Davidson come in.

Zhang and Davidson pooled an international team of experts to want to build a better grading system to give countries better insight into their own and other countries’ environmental footprint, and encourage them to set policies or incentives to improve their grade.

“It’s remarkable that we, from Appalachian Laboratory, from University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science, have been able to take a leadership role in something related to global agriculture,” Davidson said. “I think it shows we are thinking at all scales, including thinking big. People like Xin are fearless, and we can march ahead and show what we can contribute."

Follow our scientists' progress: Read their story.

9. Powering up with solar

UMCES marked the beginning of a partnership to bring sustainable energy its Horn Point Laboratory campus. Standard Solar began installation of a 10-acre solar field that will generate approximately 50% of the campus’s annual energy consumption. UMCES has also received a grant from the Maryland Energy Administration to install four vehicle-charging stations under a new solar canopy on campus.

“The solar field is another example of how we are using innovative ways to manage Horn Point Laboratory in a way that reduces our environmental footprint and engages with the community," Horn Point Director Mike Roman said. "This project also contributes to increasing Maryland’s in-state distributed electricity generation capacity and reducing the dependency on electricity imported from other states."

Watch our progress: See aerial photos of the solar field construction.

10. Chesapeake leader Don Boesch steps down after 27 years as UMCES president

Former and current colleagues, local and state dignitaries, family and friends packed the Institute of Marine and Environmental Technology on June 1, to celebrate 27 years of environmental leadership of outgoing University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science President Don Boesch.

After thanking his family and friends, and the colleagues and government officials he worked with over his tenure, Boesch brought up the then-recent decision to step out of the Paris Agreement, a worldwide commitment to reduce carbon emissions.

“The decision today was on the wrong side of history, but it’s also on the wrong side of physics, the wrong side of chemistry, the wrong side of biology, geology and economics,” he said. “So what it means for me we have more work to do, all of us. There’s a purpose for us in our world, and we have to come together and continue to move forward on the part of the world can control the state of Maryland and this region, and I think we can do that.”

Listen to Boesch's speech: Watch the video.

11. Discovering keys to evolution in genes of tiny creatures

A group scientists have used new genetic sequencing data to understand how an ancient organism that lived alongside the dinosaurs has evolved over millions of years. A four-year effort by a genetic research team from a dozen universities has uncovered for the first time the biology and evolution of dinoflagellates, tiny but complex organisms primarily known as marine plankton.

“Now we understand how they are related, what they look like,” Tsvetan Bachvaroff, a molecular geneticist at the Institute of Marine and Environmental Technology “It’s their genomic flexibility that has given them the advantage to evolve.”

The findings could lead to a better understanding of how bioluminescence works, how to turn off harmful red tides, or how to identify areas rich with oil by looking at fossilized dinoflagellates in the rock.

See how scientists made this discovery: Read their story.

12. Losing sea ice in the Arctic

After 30 years of research cruises in changing Arctic waters, 2017 brought the first summer that Chesapeake Biological Laboratory scientists Jackie Grebmeier and Lee Cooper didn’t see any ice in the sea.

Dramatic as it was, the missing ice was just another in a series of changes they have observed and are working to document after years of navigating and studying the same waters. Some changes were already apparent in the 1990s when they put out their first paper detailing a decade of research results.

They have had a front-row seat to a changing climate and have in turn been sharing their experiences and discoveries through research papers, community presentations, and providing leadership in addressing international scientific challenges in the Arctic.

“I do feel we have a responsibility to society and the people that pay for our research to report back that things are changing and it does look serious, and we need to pitch in and do something, both personally and as a society, to slow down what appears to me to be irreversible climate change,” Cooper said.

See how the Arctic has changed: Read our scientists' story.