Online Jellyfish Forecast Warns Chesapeake Swimmers

<< Back to Page 1   Page 2 of 2

"We want to estimate in real time where sea nettles are, and when," said Christopher Brown, the co-author who initiated the project. Brown is an oceanographer at the NOAA/National Environmental Satellite Data and Information Service, in Camp Springs, Maryland. "If you know the habitat for a species you should be able to predict where it occurs," Brown said.

For instance Orbimage, an earth imaging company, produces "Fish Finding Maps" by tracking sea surface temperatures from government weather satellites and plankton concentrations from a private satellite, OrbView-2.

Brown's team takes a similar approach to find jellyfish. Using a computer program, they plug in data like freshwater inflow into the bay, wind speed, and water levels and temperature at the mouth of the bay. The program generates a "habitat model" for the Chesapeake that predicts salinity and water temperature throughout the bay and its tributaries.

Salinity and temperature most influence the jellyfish population. The saltier the waters, the better for the jellies. Using the habitat model they estimate where the jellies are.

Brown's original research goal was to track toxic algae blooms. But studies lag on the blooms, which depend on a complex interplay of factors.

By contrast, researchers know more about sea nettles and their habitats, which made the creatures a good target for the first forecasting.

Satellites can pinpoint some algae blooms but not necessarily determine the species that cause them. Often, people discover an outbreak by stumbling upon a fish kill.

The worst algae blooms wreak havoc on the fishing industry and on recreation along the coasts. Toxins can accumulate in fish and shellfish—and sicken the people who eat them.

The number of blooms is growing as a result, experts believe, of nutrients and fertilizers in farm and sewage run-off.

"A model that could predict the occurrence of harmful blooms could target our monitoring," said Robert Magnien, director of the Tidewater Ecosystem Assessment of the Maryland Department of Natural Resources.

Predicting blooms would allow time to post warnings and curtail fishing. Eventually researchers hope to control the conditions that cause the blooms.

"Nowcasts" on the Chesapeake are a step toward safer waters everywhere.

National Geographic Today, at 7 pm. ET/PT in the United States, is a daily news journal available only on the National Geographic Channel. Click here to learn more about it. Go>>

Join the National Geographic Society

Join the world's largest nonprofit scientific and educational organization, and help further our mission to increase and diffuse knowledge of the world and all that is in it. Membership dues are used to fund exploration and educational projects and members also receive 12 annual issues of the Society's official journal, National Geographic. Click here for details of our latest subscription offer: Go>>

<< Back to Page 1   Page 2 of 2




NEWS FEEDS     After installing a news reader, click on this icon to download National Geographic News's XML/RSS feed.   After installing a news reader, click on this icon to download National Geographic News's XML/RSS feed.

Get our news delivered directly to your desktop—free.
How to Use XML or RSS

National Geographic Daily News To-Go

Listen to your favorite National Geographic news daily, anytime, anywhere from your mobile phone. No wires or syncing. Download Stitcher free today.
Click here to get 12 months of National Geographic Magazine for $15.