Research

The ORB lab is always engaged in excited and innovative research. Check out the tabs below to see what we are up to!

Current Projects

The Mid-Atlantic Regional Association Coastal Ocean Observing System (MARACOOS) is a NOAA funded effort with many principal investigators from academic, governmental and private institutions across the region. MARACOOS is deploying and operating the Regional Coastal Ocean Observing System designed to fulfill user needs defined within the Mid-Atlantic Region. MARACOOS is one of 11 Regional Associations in the US Integrated Ocean Observing System (IOOS). Our role in MARACOOS is to develop and provide satellite based ecological decision tools for end-users of the observatory.

Following up on previous projects in the West Antarctic Peninsula (WAP), Project SWARM aims to observe and describe the physical processes driving a biological hotspot within Palmer Deep Canyon. Palmer Deep Canyon is home to phytoplankton, krill, and penguin breeding colonies. Working with researchers from Rutgers University, Oregon State University, University of Alaska Fairbanks, Old Dominion University, University of California Santa Cruz, and the Polar Oceans Research Group, we will use gliders, High-Frequency Radar, small-boat surveys, and physical models to see how the physical oceanography of the system affects the food web. This project is funded by the National Science Foundation.


Remote sensing of environmental variables in the ocean provides a valuable, global observation platform that is increasingly useful in weather forecasts, ecosystem models, and global carbon budgets. Ocean color data products from remote sensing estimates are known to diverge from in-situ measurements and are traditionally calibrated by coincident shipboard measurements. This project seeks to confirm an alternative comparison tool to validate remote sensing ocean color products by using data from authonous underwater vehicles (AUVs). From this empirical relationship, algorithms that compute important ocean color data products can be regionally tuned and included in forecasting and modeling efforts. This project is funded by NOAA.

Atlantic Sturgeon are listed under the Endangered Species Act and populations have been struggling to rebuild since the late 19th century.  The utilization of acoustic biotelemetry along with the Mid-Atlantic Regional Association Coastal Ocean Observing System (MARACOOS) will allow us to link the movements and habitats of Atlantic Sturgeon with oceanographic conditions to better understand their seasonal migrations and distributions in the Delaware Bay, as well as the coastal Atlantic Ocean. This project is part of a collaborative effort between the University of Delaware, Delaware State University, and Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control. Current funding is courtesy of the Lenfest Ocean Program with past funding from the National Marine Fisheries Service.



Past Projects

The main objective of this proposal is to develop and validate satellite-driven species distribution and abundance models for the West Antarctic Peninsula (WAP). This objective will be achieved by integrating the results of two component efforts. The first encompasses a “top-down” historical time series analysis of existing space-based and in-situ measurements of WAP phytoplankton, krill and penguin distribution and abundance data from the Palmer Long-Term Ecological Research Station (PAL LTER). The second is represented by a “bottom-up” field program focused on spatially predicting the foraging locations of the Adélie penguin. This field effort links space-based platforms, AUV’s and animal-borne sensors. The results of this work will, 1) quantify the ability of satellite data streams to capture and describe the climate driven ecological changes in the WAP and, 2) predict how Adélie penguin foraging locations and their associated biodiversity will change if warming trends continue.

Our objectives are to develop the methodology for bioluminescence potention and bioluminescence leaving radiance predictions on scales 1-5 days, and to understand the coupled bio-optical and physical processes in the coastal zone that governs the variability and predictability of bioluminescence. This research will be conducted in Monterey, CA.

Salinity is a key tracer of coastal ocean mixing and therefore is critical to understanding the biogeochemical exchange between terrestrial and marine systems. In Delaware Bay, knowing and controlling the position of the salt wedge is critical for protecting water supplies. This is a major concern of the Delaware River Basin Commision (DRBC). Salinity in Delaware Bay is also an important factor that influences the distribution of the flora and fauna in the estuary. We are using MODIS-Aqua to estimate the optically active constituents such as phytoplankton, colored dissolved organic matter, (CDOM) and detritus. Suspended detritus and CDOM strongly absorb blue visible light in coastal environments, resulting in a blue reflectance signal that is weaker compared to offshore marine environments. Because a large amount of CDOM and detritus washes off the land, blue reflectance should be a good indicator of salinity. NOAA’s Coast Watch program is evaluating this new product, which may become a part of the operational suite of satellite products of their east coast node in the Chesapeake Bay. This effort is funded by Delaware Space Grant.

This project is a collaboration with Josh Kohut and John Manderson. The objective of this project is to analyze North East Fisheries Science Center (NEFSC) bottom trawl fisheries survey data with the Mid-Atlantic Regional Association Coastal Ocean Observing System (MARACOOS) to develop spatial habitat indicators useful for spatial fisheries management. Specifically, we will use community and single species statistical models to relate fisheries survey data with pelagic as well as benthic habitat variables measured between 2004-present. The habitat indicators derived from this analysis could become a standard statistical tool used by ocean observatories for the prediction of spatial changes in fish community structure and abundance in near real-time. This project is funded by NOAA.

This project is a collaboration with the University of Delaware, Rutgers UniversityNational Marine Fisheries Service and the Garden State Sea Food Association to model and predict Butterfish (Prepilus triacanthus) habitat to reduce their commerical by-cath. We will use the Mid-Atlantic Regional Association Coastal Ocean Observing System (MARACOOS)  to develop spatial habitat indicators for butterfish and produce real-time maps of butterfish habitat to commercial fishermen seeking to reduce their by-catch of butterfish. This project is funded by NOAA.

In collaboration with Andrew Irwin, Paul Falkowski and Oscar Schofield in a three-year NASA funded effort to objectively map and detect changes in large ocean ecosystems. We are using algorithms developed in the field of  bioinformatics. These large ocean ecosystems are called biogeographic provinces. Biogeographic provinces provide useful categories for comparing and contrasting important ocean processes such as primary production, carbon flux, and species distribution and diversity. Climatological provinces have been identified using a priori expert knowledge. Discerning temporal trends and fine scale structures require objective automatic methods. We use objective classification on global remote sensing data to automatically produce time and space resolved province distributions. Our DATA results are availible on the web. These province locations are verified by independent in-situ data from Canada’s Federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans, the Coriolis project for operational oceanography and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Atlantic Oceanographic and Meterological Laboratory.

Satellite oceanographic products provide an unequaled view of the global ocean surface allowing us the opportunity to map important biogeochemical processes in the ocean such as primary production and carbon export to the deep ocean. However, despite the wealth of data satellites provide, their continuing criticism is that they “see” only a fraction of the water column in most ocean conditions.

The mid-Atlantic continental shelf has been identified by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory as the coastal region with the greatest offshore wind resource potential in waters less than 60m deep and therefore is very well suited for near-term offshore wind energy technology. Federally endangered Atlantic Sturgeon (Acipenser oxyrinchus oxyrinchus) and the commercially important Winter Skate (Leucoraja ocellata), are two species that occur in the Delaware Wind Energy Area (WEA), although there is little information on their patterns of residency and habitat. Acoustic receivers were deployed around the perimeter of the DE WEA in February 2017 to monitor the seasonal occupancy and movement of telemetered individuals. In April 2017, VEMCO acoustic transmitters were implanted in 50 Atlantic Sturgeon, and 50 Winter Skate in the Delaware coastal ocean. In addition to Atlantic Sturgeon and Winter Skate, the acoustic receivers record the presence of species tagged with compatible transmitters, which are identified through the collaboration with the Atlantic Cooperative Tagging Network. This acoustic array extends further offshore than previously deployed receivers in the Delaware coastal ocean, and will expand our understanding of telemetered species use of these coastal waters further offshore in addition to informing the feasibility of potential offshore wind development in this region.

Many shark species in the Atlantic Ocean are experiencing drastic population declines. In order to better manage these populations, we need to understand where sharks migrate, and what oceanographic conditions constrain their movements. Working with researchers from the University of Rhode Island and Delaware State University, we are modeling tiger shark movements and habitat selection based on electronic satellite tag and satellite measured surface ocean data. We are also researching sand tiger shark presence and habitat selection in the Delaware Bay using acoustic telemetry. In addition, we are employing the use of pop-off satellite archival tags, and mobile transceivers in order to research the species assemblages encountered by sand tiger sharks while they are migrating along the Eastern Seaboard.

Bioluminescence, or the generation of light through a photochemical reaction by an organism, is a trait shared across many marine species, ranging from phytoplankton to fish. The spatial and temporal distributions of bioluminescent species, however, are poorly understood, especially in the Mid-Atlantic. Working with Dr. Mark Moline, the Rutgers University Center for Ocean Observing Leadership (RUCOOL), the Office of Naval Research, an Underwater Bioluminescence Assessment Tool (UBAT) was deployed on an autonomous underwater vehicle (AUV) to measure the distributions of bioluminescent plankton in the Mid-Atlantic. This project is funded by the Office of Naval Research and was made possible by industry partners WetLabs, SeaBird, and Teledyne.