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Defense Coastal/Estuarine Research Program
The Defense Coastal/Estuarine Research Program (DCERP) conducts mission-relevant basic and applied research in support of ecosystem-based management. The program's primary goal was to enhance and sustain the military mission by developing an understanding of coastal and estuarine ecosystem composition, structure, and function within the context of a military training environment. This long-term effort, centered primarily on Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, NC, was conducted in two phases: DCERP1 ran from 2006 to 2013 and DCERP2 ran from 2013 to 2017.
DCERP1 developed conceptual and mechanistic ecological models to guide research, monitoring, and adaptive management feedback loops. It further identified significant ecosystem stressors, their sources both on and off Camp Lejeune, and their impact on Camp Lejeune's ecological systems. By incorporating stressor and other ecological indicator information into the models, researchers also developed management guidelines for sustainable ecosystems.
DCERP2 emphasized the carbon cycle, impacts of climate change, and translating science into practice. The objectives of DCERP2 were to: (1) determine how ecosystem processes within military land-use environments respond to climate change to understand the sensitivity and adaptive capacity of these ecosystems; (2) build on DCERP1 findings to identify additional thresholds that can serve as indicators of tipping point conditions that could threaten the sustainability of the military mission; (3) assess opportunities for adaptive management of estuarine, coastal, and terrestrial ecosystems to enhance carbon storage at MCBCL and other Southeast military installations; and (4) convey results of scientific studies to managers and decision-makers both on and off Camp Lejeune by developing clearly written products and easy to use decision-support tools and models hosted on a readily accessible web-based platform.
Camp Lejeune and its surrounding environment are subdivided into distinct, but interdependent ecosystem modules: aquatic-estuarine, coastal barrier island, coastal wetlands, and terrestrial. In addition, DCERP1 included an atmospheric module, whereas in DCERP2 this became a climate change module. Ecosystem modules were linked by nesting each within a common regional land-air-seascape setting. Cross-cutting research projects, including geospatial-based ecosystem modeling and synthesis of the nitrogen and carbon cycles across air, water, and land, captured key ecological processes. Long-term ecosystem monitoring was accomplished by a system of more than 300 stations. This system provided consistent and comprehensive baseline environmental information to the research projects. A centralized system supported managing the complex environmental data generated by the program and program web sites facilitated the rapid exchange of information among the various DCERP partners, Camp Lejeune, and the public.
Initial research elucidated in particular the hydrologic and nitrogen cycles within the New River watershed, relating these cycles to the health of the New River estuary and allocating the sources of stress to that system between military and non-military sources. Estuaries are integrators of impacts occurring within their associated watershed(s). In general, Camp Lejeune activities are a relatively small contributor to estuary stress, but at times localized land-use practices on the installation may contribute nutrient loads. Detailed characterization of the biotic and abiotic features of the New River estuary and adjoining marshes and creeks led to a new understanding of the ecology and management of shallow water estuaries such as the New River.
Other DCERP1 research improved our understanding of the geomorphology of coastal barrier islands and related biological processes. Important insights include the responses of coastal marshes to nutrient and sediment loads and to potential rises in sea level and an understanding of how wind and boat wake wave action affect coastal shoreline erosion processes. Terrestrial research assessed silvicultural practices and the ability to accelerate recovery of the longleaf pine (Pinus palustris) ecosystem and its component biota. In particular, researchers have explored how management for one listed species, the red-cockaded woodpecker (Picoides borealis), affects other bird species dependent on the longleaf pine ecosystem. Finally, atmospheric research focused on nitrogen deposition and the effects of fire on air quality.
DCERP2 research investigated the changing interactions among climate, carbon cycling, and the adaptive management of carbon at coastal military installations. The program identified synergies and conflicts among carbon management strategies amidst other priorities such as military mission sustainability, natural resource conservation, and water quality management. Collectively, the research and monitoring efforts encompass an integrated continuum of ecosystem response to changing climate with respect to carbon storage, ecosystem services, and managed habitat sustainability. Research results and management-focused, decision-support and modeling tools will form the basis for adaptive management recommendations to sustain coastal habitats and their military missions.
The long-term benefit of DCERP is a greater understanding of Camp Lejeune's biologically diverse coastal barrier island, estuarine, coastal wetland, and terrestrial ecosystems and their interactions with military training activities. Beyond that, its benefit was to also extend this learning to other DoD coastal and nearby inland installations in the Southeast. This understanding can aid in the long-term management and sustainability of coastal/estuarine ecosystems, which will enhance and maintain the military mission at these installations. Data resulting from this program's research and monitoring efforts can increase the ability of installation resource managers to perform assessments and implement appropriate management responses to potential environmental impacts arising from military activities, natural disturbance events, or climate change.
Data from this program is available from the Department of Energy's ESS-DIVE (search for "DCERP").