Environmental Monitoring and Assessment

, Volume 63, Issue 1, pp 223–236

Using Information on Spatial Variability of Small Estuaries in Designing Large-Scale Estuarine Monitoring Programs


  • Charles J. Strobel
    • Atlantic Ecology DivisionU.S. Environmental Protection Agency
  • John F. Paul
    • Atlantic Ecology DivisionU.S. Environmental Protection Agency
  • Melissa M. Hughes
    • Atlantic Ecology DivisionU.S. Environmental Protection Agency
  • Henry W. Buffum
    • Atlantic Ecology DivisionU.S. Environmental Protection Agency
  • Barbara S. Brown
    • Atlantic Ecology DivisionU.S. Environmental Protection Agency
  • J. Kevin Summers
    • Gulf Ecology Division, Sabine IslandU.S. Environmental Protection Agency

DOI: 10.1023/A:1006408306208

Cite this article as:
Strobel, C.J., Paul, J.F., Hughes, M.M. et al. Environ Monit Assess (2000) 63: 223. doi:10.1023/A:1006408306208


In the early 1990s, EPA's Environmental Monitoring and Assessment Program (EMAP) documented the ecological condition of the overall population of small estuaries along the mid-Atlantic coast of the United States. However, the Program did not provide detailed information on the condition of individual estuaries less than 260 km2 in surface area, a group of estuaries of concern to environmental managers. To address the needs of environmental managers, when EMAP returned to the region in summer 1997, it included a study of the spatial variability of ecological indicators within individual small estuaries. At 127 probability-based sites in 10 estuaries, EMAP measured a variety of parameters of water quality and sediments, including dissolved oxygen (DO), nutrients, grain size of sediments, contaminants in sediments, and community structures of benthic macroinvertebrates. From this information the ecological condition (e.g., percent area with DO concentrations below 5mg L−1) for each estuary, along with 90% confidence interval, was determined. The width of the confidence interval was then recalculated for sample sizes ranging from two stations to the total number of stations sampled in that estuary. Confidence interval widths were then plotted against sample size. These plots can be useful in designing future regional monitoring programs with a goal of describing conditions in individual systems as well as broad geographic regions. Results illustrate that beyond five stations per estuary, the reduction in the width of the confidence interval with increasing sampling intensity is relatively small; however, individual program managers need to determine "how small is small enough."

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© Kluwer Academic Publishers 2000