Frequently Asked Questions
What is an ecological forecast?
Similar to how a weather forecast outlines the likely weather conditions in coming days, an ecological forecast provides insight into what will happen in a particular ecosystem over a defined time period in the future. As with a weather forecast, there is no guarantee as to what will happen in the ecosystem during that time, but because the forecast is calculated with scientifically sound methods, it portrays the most likely future conditions.
Why are you developing ecological forecasts?
- provide an opportunity to illustrate the important role weather and river flows play in affecting the Bay's water quality, living resources and habitats
- enable resource managers to be better prepared for responding to poor ecological conditions when they occur
- guide restoration leaders towards locations and times that environmental conditions will favor restoration success
Instead of reporting on poor dissolved oxygen events after they occur, we are setting the stage for what the summertime dissolved oxygen conditions will be. These forecasts create a certain level of expectation among people involved in the Bay restoration.
What are the forecasts based on?
The forecasts are based on a combination of current and historic data in environmental conditions in the Bay. By examining the relationships between past environmental conditions and their causes, and by applying recent data to those relationships, researchers are able to determine the conditions that will likely appear in coming months. For example, to develop the 2010 dissolved oxygen forecast, researchers reviewed more than 25 years of relevant data and compared it with the recent weather conditions, current nutrient levels, and current river flow rates.
How confident are you in your forecasts?
The forecasts—developed from solid scientific methods and research—provide an overview of what is likely to happen in the summer months. To gain the greatest perspective, scientists from several state and federal agencies and universities worked together to create the forecast. A team of independent researchers then reviewed their work to confirm that the forecasts were calculated using scientifically sound methods.
What can happen that would throw your forecasts off?
Given that these forecasts are based on average summer conditions, we would expect some fluctuation around the predicted values through the summer. Factors that will affect the accuracy of this prediction include:
- summer wind variations,
- excessive precipitation,
- additional and unexpected nutrient loading and
- major storm events such as hurricanes/tropical storms.
What management actions will you take in response to the forecasts?
Forecasts can help the Bay managers direct water quality restoration efforts to areas where they will be most effective. By adaptively managing on-the-ground efforts, restoration leaders hope to accelerate the restoration of the Bay and its rivers.
Ecological forecasts help resource managers better understand management options and the likely effects of those decisions. By helping focus information exchange between scientists and policy makers, we hope to continually improve the way the Bay watershed is managed and how related policy is developed.
Developing and testing ecological forecasts highlights for scientific managers some of the uncertainties and weaknesses in data collection and scientific understanding, and it helps science managers set research, monitoring, modeling and assessment priorities.