Informing Coastal Restoration


Rock Creek of Pasadena, MD is a highly eutrophic tidal estuary that experiences a number of symptoms of water quality issues including hypoxia (low dissolved oxygen), poor clarity, fish kills and sulphur smells.  In an effort to decrease some of these symptoms, an Aeration System was installed in 1988 that pumps atmospheric air into the water.  This causes forced mixing and destratification of the water column.

The Harris Lab has been working with the Anne Arundel County government to coordinate sampling while the aerators are both on and off.  It is a unique opportunity to perform comparative experiments in a highly oxygenated eutrophic system; an unusual combination for coastal systems.  At Rock Creek, the Harris Lab is measuring:

  • Nutrient Concentrations
  • Photosynthesis and Respiration Rates
  • Water Clarity
  • Dissolved Oxygen concentrations
  • Biogeochemical Cycling rates


With Support from NOAA’s Chesapeake Bay Office, the Harris Lab received funding for “Natural Engineers in Ecosystem Restoration: Modeling Oyster Reef Impacts on Particle Removal and Nutrient Cycling”.  This project seeks to develop an enhanced computer model to describe how oyster reefs benefit the ecosystem, especially in terms of impacts to nitrogen, a nutrient that contributes to poor water quality in the Chesapeake Bay. An existing numerical model first developed by Mindy Forsyth and Lora Harris is being updated to represent phytoplankton growth and sinking, biodeposition, and nutrient cycling within reefs and underlying sediments.  Associated field work also includes evaluation of water current patterns from a model in Harris Creek and information on existing reefs in order to identify ideal site locations for validation of the model. This new modeling package will shed light on the potential for restored oyster reefs to remove particles and nitrogen from the water-column and is the focus of master’s student Kevin Kahover’s thesis.  Collaborators include Drs. Jeremy Testa, Larry Sanford, and Elizabeth North.