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NOAA Scientists Assess Storm Impacts to the Estuarine Food Web

NOAA scientists are vastly improving their understanding of how the Pamlico-Albemarle Sound (PAS) and other large productive estuarine ecosystems recover from stresses imposed by severe storms.

In a study just completed, a team of scientists led by Pat Tester, from NOAA’s National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science (NCCOS), examined how the three hurricanes that rocked the Carolinas in late summer of 1999 affected the base of the estuarine food web.

Tester and her colleagues analyzed data on patterns and concentrations of phytoplankton biomass (chlorophyll) throughout the basin before and after the three hurricanes.

Earlier studies had established the baseline phytoplankton dynamics in the Pamlico-Albermarle Sound and its tributaries. In estuarine systems like the PAS and Chesapeake Bay, overall patterns of phytoplankton abundance and distribution are seasonally predictable. The uncharacteristic changes that Tester and her colleagues observed in 1999 were an indication of the magnitude of the disruption from these storms, and also of the ecosystem’s ability to return to normal.

Tester and her colleagues observed that, within four months, chlorophyll patterns across the basin had returned to pre-flood levels

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