Special symposium

ACCESS 2016 Special Sympsium

Modelling Estuarine Ecosystems

Dr. Mark J. Brush

This workshop is intended for those working with models, interested in getting into modeling, or just wanting a better understanding of how models work and what they can do.  Dr. Brush will provide an overview of modeling, its applications in estuarine science and management, and how models work “under the hood”, with the intent of opening the black box and demystifying how models actually work.  He will also give an overview of his research developing reduced complexity models accessible to other scientists and managers, drawing examples from watershed loading, water quality, estuarine restoration, and climate change, to highlight the utility of relatively simple models.  This will be followed by demonstrations of some of these models and an extensive, informal question and answer session.  Attendees are encouraged to bring their questions and their models, share what they are working on, and engage in a discussion on the uses and utility of models in estuarine ecosystems.


Estuarine and watershed simulation models have become ensconced as essential tools for both scientific investigation and management of coastal marine ecosystems.  While the evolution of state of the art models has typically been characterized by increasing levels of complexity and spatial resolution, relatively simple and reduced-complexity models offer powerful alternatives for both research and management.  These models have the advantages of fast run times, fewer resources required for development, end-user accessibility, and reduced computational requirements, and the reduced biological and biogeochemical complexity limits the number of parameters that need to be constrained, which can be advantageous in systems without adequate data for calibration.  We have been developing and applying simplified, reduced-complexity watershed and estuarine modeling tools across multiple coastal systems from a ‘macroscopic’ perspective in an effort to develop a readily accessible, easily implemented, and fast running modeling toolbox for use in both research and management, particularly in the myriad of small coastal systems where data and resources are often not available for development of more complex models.  Examples will be shown from application of a watershed Nitrogen Loading Model to predict changes in loading as a function of land use, population, and agricultural activities, an Estuarine Simulation Model to predict water quality and ecosystem function in response to changing nutrient loading and climate, and shellfish models to quantify the ecosystem benefits and production capacity associated with oyster restoration and hard clam aquaculture.  The reduced complexity nature of the models facilitates numerous scenario and sensitivity analyses, and has made it possible to serve them online for direct use by stakeholders through a web browser, without the need for costly software or extensive modeling expertise.  

About Dr. Brush

Dr. Brush is an Associate Professor of Marine Science at the Virginia Institute of Marine Science (VIMS) in Gloucester Point, VA, part of the College of William and Mary.  Dr. Brush received his B.S. in Biological Sciences from Cornell University in 1995 and his Ph.D. in Biological Oceanography from the University of Rhode Island in 2002, and has been at VIMS since 2002 as a postdoctoral fellow, research scientist, and faculty member.  His lab focuses on the ecology of coastal marine ecosystems such as estuaries and lagoons, through both field-based ecological investigations and synthetic, interdisciplinary ecosystem simulation modeling.  Recent projects have focused on modeling the response of coastal systems to nutrient enrichment and climate change, with a focus on water quality and ecosystem function, quantifying coastal ecosystem metabolism and watershed nutrient loading, and development of living resource models of shellfish, fish, and submerged vegetation to quantify their role in ecosystem function and their response to nutrient loading and climate change.  A key aspect of Brush’s research involves development of reduced complexity, readily accessible modeling tools that can be delivered online for direct use by other researchers, managers, and educators.  Brush teaches courses in interdisciplinary coastal field research, estuarine ecology, and ecosystem modeling.  He recently served as President of the Atlantic Estuarine Research Society and is currently a Member-at-Large for the Coastal and Estuarine Research Federation.  He has served on the editorial boards of the Journal of Sea Research, Biogeochemistry, and Estuaries and Coasts.


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