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Estuarine and Coastal Ecology (OCB-5930, OCE 4930)

Course description:

Estuaries and coastal zones are among the most productive and diverse ecosystems of the oceans. With their large variety of environments, these systems provide fascinating sites for study and research. Forming the interface between land and ocean, the coastal zone with its estuaries is characterized by steep gradients, abundant life, extreme temporal and spatial heterogeneity, and also by significant anthropogenic impact. The latter is related to the high socio-economical value of these environments that provide the most prolific fishing grounds, important mineral resources, and are the zones for intense ship traffic and other commercial coastal activities.

This interdisciplinary course addresses the ecology of estuaries and that part of the inshore waters with which estuaries directly interact. We will investigate the general ecological principles that govern the productivity and diversity of estuaries, including their hydrodynamics, sedimentology, chemistry and plant and animal community structure. Because most human populations are situated within 200 miles of an estuary, we will also discuss the anthropogenic influence on the estuarine ecosystem. The course includes a field trip with demonstrations of some characteristics of a Gulf of Mexico estuary.

The processes in estuarine and coastal zones affect coastal and oceanic water quality, shelf productivity and the global climate. Investigating, monitoring and protecting these systems, thus, is central in oceanographic and environmental sciences.


Betsiboka Estuary , Madagascar , eobadmin.gsfc.nasa.gov

Learning objectives:

At the end of this course, the student will be able to

  • explain the physical, chemical and biological principles of estuarine ecological processes
  • examine estuarine food web structures and the fate of organic material, nutrients and contaminants
  • collect and evaluate physical, chemical and biological data from estuarine and coastal environments
  • develop research objectives in estuarine and coastal ecology
  • discuss human impact on estuarine ecosystems
  • see and appreciate these fascinating ecosystems from an educated perspective

Rio de la Plata estuary ( Argentina ), with input of river water from the Uruguay and Parana rivers ( http://disc.gsfc.nasa.gov/oceancolor/ )


Course format:

The material will be presented by the instructor and students using Power Point lectures.

Assignments/student participation:

Students are expected to give presentations (Power Point format) and to write a summary of research papers selected by the student.

Information resources on the course subjects:

Books (copies at the FSU library):

Coastal Ecosystem Processes by D. M. Alongi, CRC Press 1997, ISBN: 0849384265

Estuarine Ecology by J. W. Day, C. A. S. Hall, W. M. Kemp, A. Yáñez-Arancibia, Wiley-Interscience 1989; ISBN: 0-471-06263-4

Ecology of Coastal Waters: With Implications for Management by K.H., Mann. 2nd edition,Blackwell Publishing, 2000, ISBN: 0865425507

Estuaries: Advances in Ecological Research by D. B. Nedwell, D. G. Raffaelli, A. H. Fitter, Academic Press, 1999, ISBN: 0120139294

Estuarine Science: a Synthetic Approach to Research and Practice by J. E. Hobbie (ed.). Island Press, 2000, ISBN: 1-55963-700-5

Biogeochemistry of Gulf of Mexico Estuaries by T. S. Bianchi , J. R. Pennock, R. R. Twilley (eds). Wiley, 1998, ISBN: 0471161748

Geomorphology and Sedimentology of Estuaries by G. M. E. Perillo, G. M. E. Elsevier Science Ltd 1996, ISBN: 0444825614

SeaWiFS image excerpt of Florida coast, showing Suwannee River  colored dissolved organic matter plume

Sea-viewing Wide Field-of-view Sensor (SeaWiFS) image excerpt of the northeast Gulf of Mexico and Florida , showing the black water (colored dissolved organic matter) plume of water from the Suwannee River at center. (http://disc.gsfc.nasa.gov/oceancolor/)