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Home | Conceptual Model | Components

This page is archived and is no longer being maintained. Content was last updated in 2015. For current research, visit

Estuarine System Components
Model | Components | Water & Sediment Quality | Hydrodynamics |Ecosystem Structure & Function | Geology & Geomorphology

Conceptual Model for Gulf of Mexico Estuaries Integrated Science
Geology and Geomorphology
 Seafloor and subsurface mapping (bathymetry, habitat, sediments, seismic, geomorphology)
 Pre-anthropogenic and historical environmental reconstructionSediment budget and movement
 Estuary linkage to the Gulf of Mexico
 Land use, land cover, and urbanization history and mapping
 Digital elevation, topo-bathy mapping/modeling of drainage basin
 Coastal change and hazards

Ecosystem Structure and Function

 Habitat distribution, degradation, loss, and restoration
 Critical controls on seagrass health and distribution
 Critical controls on wetland health and distribution
 Harmful algal blooms
 Introduced (exotic) species
 Benthic and planktonic productivity, carbon and nutrient cycling


 Storm-water runoff
 Groundwater inflow
 Natural and anthropogenic flow alteration
 Changes in freshwater inflow
 Water circulation and residence times
 Wave energy impacts

Water and Sediment Quality

 Excess nutrients
 Toxic chemicals
 Contaminant hot spots (PAHs, DDT, chlordane, dioxin, nickel, chromium, arsenic, tributyl tin, etc.)
 Sediment/water interface processes

Each of these system components is clearly linked. For example, changes in hydrodynamics (water runoff, inflow, circulation) will, inevitably, affect water and sediment quality which, in turn, may affect the distribution of benthic habitats such as seagrass beds, which then affects sediment accumulation and transport, and eventually alters bathymetry. As a consequence, fishing resources may decline due to destruction of benthic habitat, changes in bathymetry may alter navigation routes, etc.

Effective management of coastal resources including estuaries relies upon the ability to examine the consequences of natural and anthropogenic changes on the ecosystem, and the ability to predict how a change in one system component will affect other system components. This predictive ability can only be achieved by developing an understanding of the interrelationships between system components and development of reliable predictive models that aid resource managers in science-based decision making with respect to restoration and regulatory goals. Examining these interrelationships, or establishing links, between system components can be achieved most effectively through an integrated science approach (Figure 1).

The factors driving the necessity for an integrated science approach are common to most USGS science endeavors and include: social and economic factors concerning the use and preservation of estuarine resources; natural and anthropogenic influences resulting in estuarine ecosystem change; the need to plan, execute, and evaluate restoration and regulatory activities; insuring human health and safety; and enhancing science-based decision making.

Most coastal ecosystems have existing research and monitoring efforts either through local universities and agencies or other federally funded exercises. However, many of these efforts lack the resources or expertise to address large-scale integrated science efforts. While much historical information and monitoring data may exist in a given estuarine location, synthesis and integration of existing data, and acquisition of new data to establish links and develop interpretations and products that reveal these links is a critical missing component of many estuarine research programs.

Realizing that the state of knowledge of any given estuarine system will vary from place to place, a successful integrated science strategy must be founded on partnerships and collaborative efforts between multidisciplinary teams of USGS scientists and the federal, state, and local entities already engaged in research efforts in a given location. Additionally, the science and management approach must be structured to maintain flexibility to accommodate various states of knowledge realizing that critical issues and research priorities will evolve as a project progresses. The primary challenge of an approach to integrated science for adaptive management is to carefully plan and perform integrated field-work and integrated product development that will clearly establish links between system components and provide useful predictive tools for resource managers and scientists.

Model | Components | Water & Sediment Quality | Hydrodynamics |
Ecosystem Structure | Geology & Geomorphology

U.S. Department of the Interior, U.S. Geological Survey, Gulf of Mexico Integrated Science
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