Science & Monitoring

Vicky O'Neill, the Long Island Sound Habitat Restoration Coordinator for NYSDEC, measures the height of salt marsh grass, in Lattingtown, NY

Vicky O’Neill, the Long Island Sound Habitat Restoration Coordinator for NYSDEC, measures the height of the surface elevation table (SET) pins to record marsh elevation, in Lattingtown, NY.

Science & Monitoring highlights some of the climate change-related science research and environmental management efforts conducted in Long Island Sound and the states of Connecticut and New York.


Mary Schroeder of the NYC Parks and Recreation Natural Resources Group positions SET pins at the march surface at Pelham Bay Park in the Bronx. Pelham Bay Park is a Long Island Sound Stewardship Area.

Partner agencies throughout the Sound use a monitoring device called a Surface Elevation Table to see if salt marshes are keeping up with sea level rise and other environmental impacts.

With sea level rising at a local rate of approximately 0.1 in. per year, the capacity of marshes to keep pace depends to a large degree on whether sufficient sediments flowing from rivers and coastal embayments are depositing on the marsh surfaces. One way to monitor the stability of marshes in surviving the long-term impacts of climate change is through the use of a mechanical measuring device known as the Surface Elevation Table (SET). SETs measure the relative elevation change of wetland sediments, and were first installed in the early 2000s to try to determine why several wetland complexes were losing vegetation, including the possibility of subsidence, the gradual sinking of peat that supports plants. How the marshes respond to sea level rise is an important secondary issue. There are 16 SET stations around the Sound. The stations on Long Island were installed by NYSDEC in 2008 through a $26,000 grant from the Study in 2003. Three SET stations in Connecticut (Branford, Guilford, and Westport) were installed by Yale University in the early 2000s as part of a research grant funded by the Study. Three other SET stations were installed by the Natural Resources Group of the NYC Department of Parks and Recreation in the Bronx and Queens.


Art G buoy

The Long Island Sound Integrated Coastal Observation System (LISICOS) operates buoys on the Sound that track whether oxygen levels are sufficient for fish and other marine life. Now one of these buoys will also help whether warmer waters are resulting in ocean acidification.

A buoy that contains sensors on Long Island Sound to measure water quality is about to get an upgrade to also measure for climate change. The new sensor equipment has been obtained by the Long Island Sound Study for the Long Island Sound Integrated Coastal Observation System, a University of Connecticut program which operates monitoirng equopment on 7 buoys and two coasalt locations around the Sound which provides real time water quality monitoring information at the LISICOS website.

Long Island Sound Study is presently participating in two pilot studies of advanced in situ (in water) high resolution monitoring technologies.  One study, funded by NERACOOS, is examining the effectiveness of automated in situ nutrient sensor technology in estuaries throughout New England, including Long Island Sound, Narragansett Bay, Mass Bay, and the Gulf of Maine.  This study will be deploying an instrument that measures nitrate, ammonium, and phosphate.  The other study, funded by EPA’s Climate Ready Estuaries Program, will be deploying high precision high resolution pH and pCO2 (dissolved carbon dioxide) sensors in estuaries around the country, to understand the impact of coastal processes on ocean acidification and gain early baseline data for longer term trends in acidification.  Barnegat Bay (NJ) is among the other estuaries participating in this program.  Both instrument packages will be deployed on either the ARTG or EXRK buoys.


NOAA's Milford Laboratory, an aquaculture science lab, is funding research on the impacts of ocean acidification.

Carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere is absorbed by the oceans. This changes the water chemistry, which may lead to ocean acidification, and which may impact a variety of marine life. Since atmospheric CO2 is increasing, Milford Lab staff are exploring potential impacts on organisms at all levels of the food chain. The laboratory is doing research on OA’s impact on:

  • Plankton. Changes to single celled plants at the base of the food chain could affect species at multiple trophic levels.
  • Shellfish. They make their shells from calcium carbonate, one of the chemicals most impacted by OA, and could be at risk.
  • Finfish. Differences in pH caused by OA might affect egg hatching rates, growth or otolith development in fish, impacting fishery recruitment.

Learn more about these projects on the NOAA Milford Lab website.

The Long Island Sound Study created a bi-state program to identify and track measues that can provide early warning climate change impacts.

The purpose of the Sentinel Monitoring for Climate Change in Long Island Sound Program (SMCCP) is to develop a dynamic multidisciplinary scientific strategy to provide early warning sentinel detection of climate change impacts to Long Island Sound estuarine and coastal ecosystems, species, and processes so as to facilitate appropriate and timely management decisions and adaptation responses. The goals of the SMCCP are twofold: 1) collect and synthesize data that indicate how LIS and its associated habitats, biota and processes are changing; and, 2) utilize data to provide scientists and managers with the information necessary to prioritize climate change impacts and determine appropriate adaptation and mitigation strategies for these impacts to the LIS ecosystem. The strategy addresses both short-term recommendations as well as long-range priorities for sentinel monitoring of climate change in the Sound, as well as the identification of data gaps for significant parameters.

The SMCCP recognized the need for a central repository of research pertaining specifically to climate change in Long Island Sound (LIS), as there are many such research and monitoring projects underway. The development of an online data citation clearinghouse was funded to help address the need to synthesize existing data to identify the effects of climate change on the various ecosystems of Long Island Sound as well as identify early warnings of significant climate change impacts. The clearinghouse documents Long Island Sound climate change-relevant research and monitoring through a searchable and, where appropriate, geospatial database, as well as citations of relevant research. The goals of the research database are to facilitate collaboration, encourage data assessment and synthesis, and aid in the identification of data gaps.

The Sentinel Monitoring for Climate Change in Long Island Sound Estuarine and Coastal Ecosystems of New York and Connecticut Strategy and clearinghouse as well as tutorials on using/adding to the clearinghouse can be found on UConn’s website.

Descriptons of projects funded by the Long Island Sound Study are also available on  the sentinel monitor research page of LISS’s website.

LISS, CTDEEP, and NYSERDA have developed a web-based tool that can help resource managers project the long-term affect of sea-level rise and other environmental stressors on coastal habitats.

Tidal marshes are dynamic ecosystems that provide significant ecological and economic value. Located at the margin between land and water, they are also among the most susceptible ecosystems to climate change, especially sea-level rise (SLR). SLAMM (sea level affecting marshes model) is a tool that can be used to project how marshes may respond to sea level rise. For Long Island Sound, LISS and its partners have created a web-based tool specially designed for Long Island Sound marshes.

SLAMM is widely recognized as an effective model in which long term shoreline and habitat class changes are predicted as a function of land elevation, tide range, sea level rise, and other environmental factors. Subject to additional analysis, SLAMM results can identify the most appropriate adaptation strategies for specific areas regarding land acquisition, restoration, infrastructure adaptation, and other management actions.

The SLAMM work completed for the Long Island Sound area occurred as part of two separate projects. The first project was completed by New York State Energy Research & Development Authority (NYSERDA) and covered Suffolk County, Nassau County, and all of NYC. The second project, completed in parallel to the NYSERDA project, was funded by Long Island Sound Study (LISS) and covered Westchester County, NY and all of the CT coastal counties, completing the immediate coastal area of Long Island Sound. The two projects were completed by the same consultant, Warren Pinnacle Consulting, using similar data inputs and generating compatible outputs.

Since the completion of the projects, LISS, NYSERDA, and partners (i.e., CTDEEP, NYSDEC, and NEIWPCC) have been working on next steps for using, analyzing, and distributing the SLAMM data. LISS and NYSERDA are currently drafting a webpage to desiminate SLAMM project results for Long Island Sound area which will be hosted on the LISS website. The webpage will feature information and guidance on the purpose and uses of SLAMM, along with both simple and more robust web-based map viewers that will allow users without specialized GIS software or skills to manipulate the SLAMM data maps. The viewers will have tutorials that could guide users through the tool and provide samples of queries that can be conducted. A public outreach campaign may be conducted in order to encourage use of the project data and foster collaboration among LISS partners to achieve Comprehensive Conservation and Management Plan goals affected by SLR. Other possible next steps include convening the LISS STAC to define best uses for existing project data, arranging a focus group of potential users to pilot a public outreach campaign, and determine possible further enhancement of the SLAMM data to address marsh-specific conservation management issues.

The project leads are presenting the SLAMM project to the LISS Management Committee in order to provide background on the project and update the Committee on the project results, as well as receive feedback on suggested next steps to enhance the utility of the initial project results.

Vulnarability reports provide assessment of probability and risk of the impacts of climate change on achieving Clean Water Act goals in 2050 and 2100.

In January 2016, an EPA contractor prepared three scoping reports on the Northeast United State’s vulnerabilities to climate change for the purpose of raising awareness of risks to U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Clean Water Act goals associated with climate change and indicate where more analysis might be needed:

These studies reviewed and analyzed existing information to create a risk-based climate change vulnerability assessment to inform those managing coastal watersheds in the Northeast Study Area, which includes the Long Island Sound watersheds. The vulnerability assessment resulted in consequence/probability (C/P) matrices for four EPA goal areas: pollution control; habitat; fish, wildlife, and plants; recreation and public water supplies. C/P matrices were produced for two future time periods, 2050 and 2100, for which climate change projections were available.

The coastal and marine habitats studied were:

Ocean Beach and Dune Ecosystem
2. Coastal Wetlands
3. Submerged Aquatic Vegetation
4. Oyster Reefs
5. Rock Reefs/Rocky Shorelines
6. Shallow Bay Habitat/Bay Islands
7. Terrestrial Upland
8. Floodplains/Riparian

Climate Change

Climate Change Spotlight: Chris Elphick of the University of Connecticut received funding from the Sentinel Monitoring for Climate Change Program to research the impact of climate change on tidal wetlands and the birds that inhabit tidal wetlands. See profile.


  • Acidification

    In the context of climate change, acidification is a decrease in the pH of a solution, such as seawater, due specifically to the incorporation of carbon dioxide (CO2) into the water.  The pH of seawater is typically 7.5-8.4 (reference: a pH of 7.0 indicates a neutral solution and a pH of greater than 7.0 indicates a basic solution).

  • Climate Driver

    The major climate drivers, or forcing phenomenon, that have an effect on Earth's changing climate. These include greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide, as well as the tilt and wobble of the earth, sun heat and magnetic variation, ocean circulation, and others.

  • Sentinel

    a measurable variable that is susceptible to some key aspect of climate change and which is being monitored for the appearance of climate change.

See full glossary