Last updated: 27 August 2014

Workshop for Potential Water Quality Data Providers
from Central Gulf Coast Region
March 12, 2013, Audubon Aquarium of the Americas, New Orleans, LA

A workshop for potential water quality data providers from the Central Gulf Coast region was held at the Audubon Aquarium of the Americas in New Orleans, LA, on March 12, 2013. This workshop, sponsored by the Gulf of Mexico Coastal Ocean Observing System Regional Association (GCOOS-RA), was by invitation and was attended by the individuals whose names and affiliations are given in Appendix 1.


At 9:00 am, Tricia Le Blanc, Education Director of the Audubon Aquarium of the Americas Education Director, welcomed participants and provided information about the aquarium and facility logistics. Following Le Blanc’s welcome, introductions were made and Dr. Matt Howard, GCOOS Data Management and Communications (DMAC) Coordinator, and Dr. Chris Simoniello, GCOOS Education and Outreach Coordinator, provided an overview of meeting objectives and the agenda (see Appendix 2).

Howard, on behalf of Worth Nowlin, GCOOS-RA Board of Directors, provided an introduction to the Global Ocean Observing System, the U.S. Integrated Ocean Observing System (IOOS), and the GCOOS-RA. The presentation emphasized the benefits of data sharing and focusing on the integration of distributed observational/forecast systems into a System of Systems. He explained that we currently do not have capabilities for routine and rapid detection of changes in the ocean and atmosphere, or for their prediction, over a broad spectrum of time and space scales. However, the GCOOS-RA is seeking new data providers to help remedy these deficiencies. The integrated water quality monitoring system from rivers to the Gulf began as a pilot project in southwestern Florida and now is expanding throughout the U.S. coast of the Gulf of Mexico.

Howard then provided an overview of the development and operation of the GCOOS Data Portal and Products web pages. He informed participants that the IOOS data management goal is to develop automated and largely unattended data systems to deliver high quality data and products to consumers. Required elements and services to achieve this include a data catalog, data discovery and online browse tools, access and transport, metadata, archive, and QA/QC. IOOS will require QA/QC on all data streams to award certification which will shield providers from civil liability issues. The GCOOS-RA wants to make the barrier to data sharing as low as possible. The GCOOS minimum provider requirements are: shared data will be openly available, providers will use FTP to move files to GCOOS, file names include the date and time, and the data providers conduct minimal levels of QA/QC and provide minimum metadata (e.g., parameters given, units, etc.).

Howard’s presentation led to several questions. Chaunmin Hu, University of South Florida College of Marine Science, asked if GCOOS is interested only in real time data or also data from routine sampling but not in real time. (Answer: Primarily near real-time data). Troy Pierce, EPA Gulf of Mexico Program, asked if GCOOS will ingest air quality monitoring data from EPA and/or BOEMRE. (Answer: Not at the present time). Dr. Ernst Peebles, the Water Institute of the Gulf, asked why GCOOS is limiting data, other than those from oil and gas platform ADCP instruments, to the inner continental shelf. (Answer: We’re not. The limitation is on the inshore side, in order to avoid going way-way up river). Lively discussion ensued, with Howard identifying GCOOS current data priorities as meteorological, atmospheric and biogeochemical information and legacy data needed to drive model output. Lei Hu, Dauphin Island Sea Lab and Chair, GCOOS DMAC Committee, described the issue many have with legacy data stored on outdated storage devices and inquired if the GCOOS-RA could create a package for partners to translate data–a central service hub with the technology to retrieve the information. Simoniello suggested asking Russ Beard, with NOAA’s National Coastal Data Development Center, if they have these capabilities and if so, can they make them available.

Reports from Potential Data Providers

Following Howard’s presentation, Kate Nierenberg, Mote Marine Laboratory, provided a report on the development of the southwestern Florida Integrated Water Quality Network (IWQN) and her role to entrain new data providers. Nierenberg identified successes and challenges. Chuanmin Hu inquired if Nierenberg was familiar with the Geospatial Assessment of Marine Ecosystems (GAME) project, a resource containing metadata of water quality data providers. Simoniello will follow up and introduce Nierenberg and Lloyd to Dave Reed and Cristina Carollo, former Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission GAME project leaders. Reed is also the current Chair of the Gulf of Mexico Alliance DMAC committee.

Following Nierenberg’s update, potential GCOOS data providers were invited to give presentations on their organizations’ water quality programs. Presenters were asked to address what they are measuring, the locations of their sampling sites, methods and frequency of data collection, and protocols for data sharing.

Chuanmin Hu provided an overview of “Virtual Buoy” products (, new water quality assessment tools derived from satellite remote sensing data. A Virtual Antenna System at USF obtains approximately 40 GB of satellite raw data per day, which is integrated with field and laboratory data from other sources and served via a Google Earth platform. Data are currently acquired for approximately 70 stations in the West Florida region (Charlotte Harbor, Sarasota Bay, Steinhatchee River, Suwannee River Estuary, Tampa Bay, and West Florida Shelf) and include information such as chlorophyll, turbidity, water clarity, Secchi disc depth, bottom light, and sea surface temperature, parameters of interest to EPA decision-makers in establishing nutrient criteria. Algorithm validations currently support the proof of concept that satellite data can be used as a basis for water quality-related decision-making. Hu stated that the products can be extended to other estuaries and coastal waters. However, while the satellite products exist, other regions currently lack the intense field sampling needed to validate the virtual products. Two new products in development are 1) a satellite ultraviolet light penetration product for waters deeper than one meter in the Florida Keys; and 2) ensemble products from the integration and overlaying of satellite and buoy data that can be mapped and viewed in Google Earth. A limitation of the method is for virtual stations within 1 km of land because the satellites data pixels there contain information for both land and sea and the algorithm no longer applies. There is the prospect of Landsat resolving the issue, but the temporal coverage is limited (once every 16 days, and with only three bands).

Howard provided a brief update on the status of the GOMA Catalog of Monitoring Programs (GoMONITOR). The catalog was recently moved from the University of Miami to GCOOS at Texas A&M University. While the framework has been transitioned, the site needs to be populated with information. Troy Pierce, EPA, offered assistance identifying groups to populate the site.

Lei Hu summarized potential legacy data available from DISL, emphasizing the difficulty in retrieving information from outdated storage devices, the limitations of use because of unknown data quality, and the lack of metadata. She provided a presentation showing the parameters currently measured and those made in the past by DISL scientists and citizen monitoring groups. From 1995-2002 there are Harmful Algal Bloom counts and temperature and salinity data for Mobile Bay and the Gulf of Mexico from 12 sites. Since 2003, the Mobile Bay Environmental Monitoring Program has been making measurements. However, DISL has only been uploading to the GCOOS Data Portal since 2005. Hu informed the group that the Mobile Bay National Estuary Program created a Water Characterization File in 2000 and it catalogs studies and papers published on water quality dating back to the 1970s.

Troy Pierce, US Environmental Protection Agency Gulf of Mexico Program, provided an update on the 25 Healthy Beaches sites, including work funded by GCOOS to entrain Sarasota Healthy Beaches data into the GCOOS Data Portal. Howard confirmed the data are flowing. However, there is discussion underway about how to display the information to make it most useful to decision-makers, particularly those in the shellfish community. Pierce stated that the indices measured and the frequencies of sampling are highly variable. Examples included information on benthic and fish communities measured every five years and made available via the National Coastal Condition Report to measurements made under the Clean Water Act on weekly to once every several year cycles and stored in the EPA STORET database. Parameters measured depend on the water body and include pathogens, mercury, DDE, dissolved oxygen, pH, temperature, salinity, water clarity, and a suite of nutrients.

Pierce also summarized the hypoxia work of John Lehrter, Gulf Ecology Division of EPA’s Gulf Breeze laboratory, and the remote sensing work of Blake Schaeffer. Lehrter has conducted numerous hypoxia cruises, most east of the Mississippi River; and Schaeffer has used remote sensing data (e.g., turbidity, phytoplankton) to create a mobile application for lifeguards to share information about HABS in coastal MS and AL. Discussion of the Gulf Monitoring Network meeting ensued, with recommendations including incorporation of elements from the GCOOS Build-out Plan into the monitoring network plan, including cost estimates, adding stations in Mexico, and sampling isobaths closer to shore to address fisheries and HABS.

Josh Goff, DISL Ecosystem Laboratory, provided an update on monitoring activities between Perdido Key, FL and Pascagoula, MS. The water quality measurements made are supplementary to other monitoring efforts (e.g., marshlands, oysters). Most work uses primitive water bottle sampling protocols and is not reported in real time. Measurements have been made at sites ranging in length from months to seven years. Parameters measured include dissolved oxygen, salinity, light attenuation, nutrients, dissolved and particulate nitrogen, and dissolved organic carbon. Goff is interested in working with L. Hu to aggregate point water sample data from multiple DISL providers and enable web access to the information. Sites include Grand Bay, MS, Mississippi Sound, and Perdido Key. There is currently no portal access to the combined data. Howard stated that LUMCON and others doing GOMRI and ecosystem integration and assessment work would find the information valuable. L. Hu suggested using the DISL effort to demonstrate how the data can be made useful once integrated and associated with appropriate metadata.

Ernst Peebles, Coastal Systems Ecology, The Water Institute of the Gulf (TWIG), summarized the role of TWIG in informing Gulf restoration plans, particularly for coastal Louisiana and Mississippi. The primary role of the group is to advise Louisiana state decision makers about proposed projects to rebuild land along the Gulf coast. Most needed is a cost estimate to use in negotiating with BP on the design of the monitoring system. Research priorities include continuous recorders for hypoxia monitoring, coupling monitoring data with biological samples, and establishing a dense acoustic array to track marine life. There also is interest in implementing a towed camera monitoring program for stock assessment of grouper and snapper. Peebles stated that if planned sediment diversions are implemented, the average flow change will be the equivalent of the entire Missouri River, a source of great controversy because many oyster reefs will be buried and fisheries altered. The estimate is that there will be a $50 B investment over 50 years, with USACOE leading the effort to have real-time data delivery for more than 75 sites, plus sites with fish tracking, nutrient data, and sediment diversion quantification. USGS data currently are assimilated and stored by two private companies. It is unknown who will be responsible or how data from the new stations will be handled. Peebles estimated that the sediment diversions could occur within 14 months at the earliest, but it could be significantly longer.

Mark Ornelas, Alabama Department of Environmental Management (ADEM), Water Quality Monitoring, provided a summary of Fred Leslie’s November 2012 Bays and Bayous Symposium presentation, ADEM Water Quality Monitoring: Current Status. The state deals with river, stream and coastal water monitoring that spans multiple districts and is funded by various entities interested in usability and assessment studies. Parameters measured include pH, dissolved oxygen, nutrients, chlorophyll-a, suspended sediments, bacteria (primarily in freshwater), metals, and some pesticides and volatiles. Ornelas stated that while Alabama claims 100% sampling coverage, from the mountains to the sea, there are long intervals between sampling. For example, sampling of large rivers and reservoirs to develop lake-specific nutrient criteria are on the order of two to three year cycles. Frequency of sampling at the 58 stations taking vertical profiles varies from once per month to a few times per year. Twenty additional stations, modeled after a basin rotation sampling scheme, were added in 2012. Most information from the past 11 years is available in STORET on the ADEM Water Quality monitoring site. Reports are also made publicly available. Despite a 23-year monitoring history, sampling in coastal waters is relatively new; first sampling occurred in 2011. ADEM is interested in establishing bio-assessments in state waters, which requires increased monitoring at state boundaries.

Closing Remarks

Howard stated that he is overwhelmed with the sources and types of data available. The challenge is identifying what can be ingested and packaged by GCOOS for the greater good. The strategy must be to visit the identified sources of information, sift, sort and identify what can be incorporated. Dialogue at the meeting suggests we might need to change our thinking about real time and historical data. GCOOS might be a solution to make currently disparate legacy data sets useful. C. Hu suggested that it would be useful to know if anyone has done any data synthesis with legacy data sets, if there are patterns in the long-term trends, and if these have been published.

The meeting was adjourned.

Action Items/Follow Up Activities

  • Determine if GCOOS can play a role in helping data partners resolve challenges of retrieving and making available legacy data stored on outdated storage devices. Chris Simoniello will follow up with Russ Beard (NCDDC) to determine their capabilities and whether they might make such available to RA partners. (DONE–pending follow up reply from Beard)
  • Chris Simoniello will introduce via email Kate Nierenberg and Larry Lloyd to FWC GAME project leaders Dave Reed and Cristina Carollo. GAME resources can be used to help ID IWQN data providers. (DONE)
  • Requested by Troy Pierce: Locations of Gulf fresh water input (rivers mouths, aka mile zero), which when combined with circulation models becomes a powerful tool to inform decision making around beach WQ, especially after rainfall events and oyster management dam water open/closures could benefit from info as well).
  • Barbara Kirkpatrick will follow up with Blake Schaeffer, who Chuanmin Hu states has created a mobile phone application for lifeguards to share information about HABs through Blake’s remote sensing program (turbidity, phytoplankton for MS and AL coastal areas).
  • There is interest in connecting Gerardo Gold (GOM LME), who is working with Allen Lewitus, with FlowCam system. Troy Pierce will contact Gerardo about FlowCam interest, and copy Matt Howard who will entrain Lisa Campbell.
  • Every 10 years dredge material disposal sites are tested (e.g., CTE drops, spycam into first few cm of bottom, sediment grab samples). Troy Pierce will identify where the data are stored (possibly by Jeannie Allen’s group; Rolin Ferry or Chris McArther, Atlanta EPA Office) and provide link to the group. Chuanmin Hu is especially interested in these data sets.



Appendix 1: Names and affiliations of attendees

Attendee Affiliation
Joshua Goff Dauphin Island Sea Lab
Matthew Howard GCOOS-RA
Barbara Kirkpatrick Mote Marine Laboratory
Chuanmin Hu University of South Florida
Lei Hu Dauphin Island Sea Lab
Kate Nierenberg Mote Marine Laboratory
Mark Ornelas Alabama Department of Environmental Managers
Ernst Peebles The Water Institute of the Gulf
Troy Pierce EPA Gulf of Mexico Program
Chris Simoniello GCOOS-RA



Appendix 2: Agenda

Central Gulf Coast Potential WQ Data Providers Workshop
March 12, 2013, Audubon Aquarium of the Americas, New Orleans

0920 Introduction to the Gulf of Mexico Coastal Ocean Observing System Regional Association (Worth Nowlin)
0935 Discussion of the GCOOS Data/Products Portal (Matthew Howard)
0955 Report on development of the southwest Florida IWQN (Kate Nierenberg)
1010 BREAK
1020 Description of new WQ assessment tool, “Virtual Buoy Products” (Chuanmin Hu)
1040 Status of GOMA’s Catalog of Monitoring Systems, “GoMonitor” (Matthew Howard)
1055 Brief presentation from invited potential data providers (15 minutes with discussion)
          What is being measured and where?
          How and how often are data being collected?
          Are data being shared and, if so, how?
Lei Hu, DISL–DISL Legacy Data
Troy Pierce, US EPA Gulf of Mexico program
Josh Goff, DISL–Monitoring sites between Perdido Key, FL and Pascagoula, MS
Ernst Peebles, The Water Institute of the Gulf
Mark Ornelas–ADEM Water quality monitoring
John Lehrter, U.S. EPA Gulf Ecology Division
1200 LUNCH
1300 Continue presentations from invitees
1330 Request that data be made available via GCOOS Portal (Matthew Howard)
1400 Discussion [What are data provider needs? What are expected data formats or delivery times? Etc.]