National Estuaries Day

This past Saturday (September 24) was National Estuaries Day.

So this week’s (short) post is a “why we do it:” for estuaries! So I encourage all of you to visit your nearest National Estuarine Research Reserve, or nearby wetland, to enjoy the beauty of these habitats we are seeking to better understand!


A honey bee pollinating an ox-eye sunflower (Heliopsis helianthoides) at a wetland near me! (photo: Kari St.Laurent (me))

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Hurricane Joaquin: A work in progress

Figure 1:

Figure 1: Hurricane Joaquin affected the East Coast from Sept. 28 to Oct. 7th, 2015. You can see some dips in salinity from rainfall, especially in South Carolina which received 18+ inches of precipitation in some areas!

Last week, researchers from the National Estuarine Research Reserve System (NERRS), the Integrated Ocean Observing System (IOOS), and NOAA met to combine monitoring efforts and expertise.

I was tasked (okay, I volunteered) with helping in a case study to see how Hurricane Joaquin affected salinity along its track on the US east coast. This will be a fun exercise that allows a system-wide approach, meaning that we are not limited to a region or just to the coast/ocean.

Figure 2:

Figure 2: The R package SWMPr made this plot a breeze!

In today’s post, I am simply showing a few of the plots I made to start to conversation with my IOOS counterparts. As a Mid-Atlantic researcher, I am trying my best to keep Maryland, Virginia, and Delaware represented in this case study! Stay tuned as these got from show and tell to quantitative analysis!

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National Estuaries Day

Figure 3:

From the Horn Point Lab Open House in 2015.

I am preparing for National Estuaries Day. September 17-24th is National Estuaries Week with September 24th marking National Estuaries Day.

Many of the National Estuarine Research Reserves have some type of activity or social media campaign for this week to celebrate how great estuaries are and bring some attention to why we need to restore, protect, and maintain these colorful wetlands.


Work in Progress: The Rx1day index for the Dover Air Force Base.

Flashback to last year at the Horn Point Open House when we displayed two of our climate indices as a massive timeline and asked visitors to tell us stories about memorable events or see if anything notable happened on their birthday month.

That image got a few of my Delaware NERR colleagues talking about how we could incorporate that timeline into our National Estuaries Day event in Dover. So I made one using a time series from the Dover Air Force Base. I hope to include a “zoom-in” box of our SWMP data soon!

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Last week’s post showed some progress on a poster I am making for the Mid-Atlantic Conference for the American Water Resources Council.

This week, I have made that poster! While there is still an edit or two, I have been piecing together the “story” I want to tell. Note that the image I had last week did not even make the cut!

This is more of a Show and not a Tell since a poster should be readable on its own. If this is confusing, then I still have a lot of work to do!

St.Laurent Poster MAC AWRA


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Working on a poster

I will be presenting a poster on the collaboration and communication approach we used in this project at the  Mid-Atlantic Conference of the American Water Resources Council on September 15th and 16th.

So I have been drafting and editing the Collaborative Research template report and translating that into a poster. No easy task!

Below is a timeline I have been working on (warning, it is still in the draft phase!)


It is a busy conceptual diagram, but shows the complexity of this project!

I’ll have the poster ready to show off next week!

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Project One-Pager

nccosI was tasked to write a one-pager for this project by the National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science (NCCOS), a division in the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

Since this blog is meant transparently show what we are actively working on, I thought: why not have this week’s post be that one-pager?

Note: This was my first one-pager and had a rapid turn-around, so I am not claiming it to be perfect!

Project Title: “Chesapeake Bay climate sensitivity assessment”

Summary of Project Work: This project bought together researchers, managers, and educators from University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science, NCCOS/OCM/NOAA, and the Chesapeake Bay National Estuarine Research Reserves (CBNERR) of Maryland and Virginia to create a portfolio of end-user ready products which incorporated stakeholder input from the beginning. This project had two phases: 1) An assessment of historical and projected future climate extreme change and variability and 2) ecological implications of the climate assessment.

Picture5Climate Extreme Assessment: 26 climate extreme indices were calculated using data from the Global Historical Climate Network and System-Wide Monitoring Program to determine the absolute intensity, duration, and frequency of temperature- and precipitation-based events. This worked was centered on the CBNERRs to provide a more site-specific, Chesapeake Bay-focused, analysis. The goals of this work were to reconstruct climate extreme patterns from the observed (1895-2014) record, establish a present day baseline, and use this historically-referenced data to assess the Coupled Model Intercomparison Project 5th assessment climate models under two emission scenarios.

Ecological Implications: To demonstrate the ecological application of the calculated climate indices, four “vignettes” were selected based on the feedback and input from the CBNERRs representing four environment issues. These four vignettes are: 1) frequency of warm summer days and nights in relation to submerged aquatic vegetation diebacks, 2) annual precipitation frequency linkages to total nitrogen load in Chesapeake Bay tributaries, 3) changes in the start and end of the thermal growing season length and its implications to phenology, and 4) extension of the time period over which Vibrio vulnifericus and Vibrio cholerae may occur due to warming.


  • October/November 2015: Presentation given at GSA in Baltimore, MD; poster presented at CERF in Portland, OR
  • March 2016: A “print-ready, presentation-ready” climate summary was drafted
  • June 2016: Two companion manuscripts were submitted and are currently in review in Estuaries and Coasts, NERRS special issue
  • August 2016: A Fluid Collaborative Project Template was drafted
  • Ongoing: A climate change chapter for the Chesapeake Atlas, an educational e-book created by Chesapeake Environmental Communications, is in progress and will incorporate this data
  • Ongoing: A website was created to summarize this work and provide a hub for the data generated (
  • Ongoing: A weekly updated blog allows transparency and real-time input (


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SWMP data: Let’s plot this weekend’s temperature!

Figure 2: Here is a temperature plot from a January 14th post!

Here is a temperature plot from a January 14th post showing a cold snap!

This weekend, the parts of the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic have been experiencing some really warm temperatures.

Whether you are a scientist, a teacher, or just an interested individual, plotting temperature can be really informative and even exciting way to visualize this heat advisory.

One of the greatest assets of the NERRS is the System-Wide Monitoring Program (SWMP), which makes parameters such as temperature, humidity, and precipitation easily available. SWMP data is take every 15 minutes, allowing you to see the nearly instantaneous changes in weather rather than just get the daily high and low.

In today’s post, I will demonstrate how I use Excel to make some of the figures I commonly post here, such as the the image’s from last week’s post!

Step 1: Get the data!

SWMP data is downloadable from the Centralized Data Management Office located here:

Get data:

Get data: Go to the Data Export System on the CDMO website, select your Reserve of choice, select your desired data range, and voila! You’ll get an Excel spreadsheet emailed to you!

2For today’s example, I was only interested in temperature, so I deleted the other cells so it wouldn’t get crowded. The data comes in metric units, that is Celsius for temperature; however, I will be converting it to Fahrenheit since these units are more recognizable in the United States.

But I encourage you to remember this simple rhyme in case a plot is ever in Celcius: 30 is hot, 20 is pleasing, 10 is cool, 0 is freezing!

Step 2: Make the plot in Excel

You don’t need to be fancy, Excel can be easily used to make some pretty plots! With a few tips, you can have a customized plot.

Picture1Excel is very user-friendly and has some wonderful pre-set designs that can make this plot really pop. Play around with the background colors, line style, and even images until you are content!

One plot, 4 easy designs!

One plot, 4 easy designs!

Step 3: Interpret the data!

It is one thing making the graph, but the true purpose is to understand what the data is displaying! I often like to use Powerpoint to add captions into the plot to highlight important points.

Our plot(s) here show that this weekend was really warm in Maryland!

Picture3Step 0: Even easier!

What’s another way you can look at the SWMP data even easier and quicker? The plotting function from the CDMO website!


You can plot two parameters at once on the CDMO website to look at connectivity, such as this inverse relationship between temperature and relative humidity!

So the SWMP data can be a fun way to “see” this heat wave we are currently experiencing in the Chesapeake Bay region! You have tools at the ready to go as in depth into the data as you need!

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Oh those Summer Nights

It was pretty hot that last week in July! I downloaded the meteorological data from Taskinas Creek, VA from the CDMO and plotted that heat wave in Fig. 1.  July 24th through the 28th exceeded 95°F each day! Luckily, by July 29th, the daily high dropped by 10° to be “only” 85°F.

Fig 1.

Fig 1. Temperature at 15 minute measurements from Taskinas Creek at the CBNERR in Virginia from July 22 to Aug 1, 2016.

Besides heat, parts of the Mid-Atlantic also had a terrible downpour on July 30th, which resulted in the tragic flooding of Ellicott City, MD. I also plotted the precipitation from Jug Bay, MD to visually show this rain event (Fig. 2). On July 30th, as recorded at Jug Bay, 0.45 inches of rain fell, 0.35 inches in just 1 hour!

Fig. 2:

Fig. 2: Daily precipitation sums from July 29th to August 1st from Jug Bay of the CBNERR in Maryland.

Extreme Weather: Heat Matters Too!

Fig. 3:

Fig. 3: The preliminary 2015 weather statistics from the National Weather Service.

We all know that weather can be dangerous. That is why we know to go inside during a thunderstorm or to seek shelter in a tornado warning. We hear about hurricanes and blizzards usually with enough advance to get the appropriate supplies or to evacuate.

But we probably think less about heat.

Looking at the 10 and 30 year averages, heat is actually the number one cause of weather-related fatalities (Fig. 3). We only need to remember back two weeks to recollect how extreme heat can make you weak, easily dehydrated, and achy just from being outside for a few minutes! And not everyone is luckily enough to have AC and plenty of ice water at the ready.

Nighttime Heat can be Dangerous

I choose this week’s topic based on a CNN post that caught my eye.

Unusually high humidity will keep nighttime temperatures very warm, which can be more dangerous than the daytime highs, because our bodies don’t have time to recover. The temperature needs to drop to at least 80 degrees for recovery to begin.” – Jennifer Gray and Dave Hennen, CNN Meteorologists

To further support this, the National Weather Service states: “The common guidelines for the issuance of excessive heat warnings is when the maximum daytime index is expected to reach 105, and the nighttime low temperature does not fall below 75 or 80 degrees.”

Picture5The occurance of warm summer nights is one of the climate extreme indices with the greatest observed change in Chesapeake Bay.

The Tropical Night index is the annual count of days when the coolest daily temperature is still greater than 68°F. In Chesapeake Bay, we have observed between 2 and 4 additional days per decade of these near-dangerous warm nights, and that trend is projected to continue increasing by 3 to 8 days per decade in the next century.

Take Homes

The annual amount of really warm nights has increased in the near-shore Chesapeake Bay region, which could be hazardous to anyone without access to AC or to young children and the elderly. As we move into the future, warm nights should be considered as dangerous weather!


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Product Highlight: We are making a website!

Okay, before I give you the link or any information about this website, I must declare that it is a work in progress!

Okay, now with that out of the way….we have been making a website!


Anyone can make a website now no matter what your experience level is! This is a screen shot of my photography blog that will be home to my phenology pictures!

Anyone can make a website now no matter what your experience level is! This is a screen shot of my photography blog that will be home to my phenology pictures!

A topic of many conversation was: how we will convey these vignettes and climate data to the public? Sure, having the data and some hopeful publications is great, but how could we explain this work to a larger audience?

At first, we were worried a website would be too boring. Everyone has a website now (I have even have 2 websites of my own for hobbies!). But maybe there is a reason why websites are so popular. They offer a great visual tool to display data, and with web design becoming so common, that means there are thousands of webpage designs and layouts to choose from.

So, just before the last Think Tank, we decided: let’s construct a web page that would summarize this project!

Who is our audience?

Our "onion" approach. On the website, you can click the arrows to bring up more in depth versions of each image.

Our “onion” approach. On the website, you can click the arrows to bring up more in depth versions of each image.

One of the first things you must do when making a website is decide who is your target audience. That decides your tone and layout design! But our hopeful audience is the Chesapeake Bay community, which is pretty broad!

When we “premiered” this website back in March, that same concern on the broad target audience came up, however a solution was offered.

Jenn Raulin from the Chesapeake Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve in Maryland came up with the “onion” approach where an individual could “peel back layers” of the data to go more in depth as desired.

Thus, at the base, this website could be for a very general audience. But those who what more information can dive deeper into the data.

The Website in progress!

 Curious? Here is the link to our website Changing Chesapeake.

Over the next month or two, this website will be updated, so check in periodically.

Our hopes is that the big premiere will happen at our last Think Tank coming up sometime this fall!

Last Thoughts

If you are familiar with this project, it is likely since you are either a partner or have heard one of us speak about this research at a workshop or conference. However, this project will be wrapping up pretty soon, so we needed a home for these vignettes! This website will allow our partners and anyone else to have this information at their finger tips for a very long time!


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Work in Progress: Collaborative Template II

Credit: Flickr

Credit: Flickr

This is a continuation from last month’s post on one of this project’s products: a collaborative template.

I am not suggesting this is the best framework for a collaborative project, rather the summation of our fluid approach, including lessons learned, success stories, and future recommendations.

In today’s post, I will seemingly to take a few side turns, but it will all end up being part of the collaborative template report I am currently drafting. After all, the goal of SciencePensieve is to give readers a peak into our current works, and that does not always lend itself to a nice, ordered story!

Here is a glimpse of what I have so far!

First thing first: what is the purpose of this Collaborative Template and what made this project unique?

collaborationObjective: This document will be the fluid template used in our collaborative research project (short) titled “Climate Extremes and Variability in Chesapeake Bay.” This template will and highlight the iterative approached used in this 2-year project, including critiques, successes, and failures as “lessons learned”. While it does not claim to be that “panacea” for all future collaborative research projects, it will offer insights on how to successfully complete end-user ready products using the best available science.

Premise: This research project was novel and unique since research was conducted with:

1) Stakeholder collaboration and input from start to finish

2) Immediate end-user utility

And of course I cannot forget who is involved!

Partners: University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science (Horn Point Laboratory), NCCOS/OCM/NOAA, the Chesapeake Bay National Estuarine Research Reserves of Maryland and Virginia, Chesapeake Environmental Communications, Inc.

Here is the side spin: The Scientific Method

While everyone knows about the Scientific Method, I always think it is worth highlighting that we used this fundamental framework in this project. Because of that, I have recreated a conceptual diagram of the Scientific Method for use in presentations (mostly to education-based audiences).

So, what better forum than now! This image will likely show it’s face in that document!


My rendition of the Scientific Method!

On September 15th, I will be presenting this collaborative template at the 2016 Mid-Atlantic Conference of the American Water Resources Association, so stay tuned for more!

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