Coastal Ocean Research and Monitoring Project
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Research Themes

CORMP research is integral to CORMP's overall goal. To accomplish the CORMP mission, the following research themes are addressed: Water Quality, Ocean Optics and Remote Sensing, Physical Oceanography, Fisheries, Sediment Transport and Modeling.


Water Quality

The Cape Fear region contains numerous sources of water pollution, including industrial hog farms, urban development, point source discharges, and other environmental disturbances. UNCW's Aquatic Ecology Laboratory, headed by Dr. Michael Mallin, maintains comprehensive water quality programs in the estuaries, rivers, and streams of southeastern North Carolina . Our role in CORMP is to provide similar water quality data for the coastal ocean (e.g. dissolved oxygen, nutrient and chlorophyll levels), and gain an understanding of the meteorological, hydrological, and land use factors in the Cape Fear River watershed that influence the productivity and habitat of the Cape Fear River plume region.

Ocean Optics and Remote Sensing

Daily sea surface temperature (SST) images and ocean color images can be used to track the distance of the Gulf Stream offshore, the location of the Cape Fear River plume on the shelf, and the development of phytoplankton blooms offshore. Dr. Michael Durako and Dr. Wendy Woods use optical measurements made during monthly cruises to relate ocean water contents of phytoplankton, suspended sediments and riverine organics to water clarity and ocean-color satellite data.   The clarity of the water determines how much light is available for plant growth (photosynthesis) both in the water column and on the bottom, which constitutes the base of the marine food web.

Physical Oceanography

Physical observations are the backbone of CORMP’s field observational and numerical modeling program. A network of oceanographic moorings, from the shore to outer shelf of North Carolina help CORMP scientists, like physical oceanographer Dr. Fred Bingham, study currents, tides, surface waves; temperature, salinity, and sea level fields; and ocean-atmosphere interaction. Cruises and moorings in the Cape Fear River plume will help us understand the dynamics of the interface between fresh and salt water.


The most valuable commercial fisheries in the Southeast U.S. are estuarine-dependent-- adults spawn offshore and larvae journey inland to nursery grounds. CORMP describes recruitment processes on offshore reefs, spawning grounds, and areas being considered for protected status. The Cape Fear River, like most SAB rivers, opens directly into the coastal ocean. Salt and larvae exchange freely through the mouth. CORMP scientists evaluate the role of the Cape Fear River plume in attracting, concentrating and successfully transporting offshore larvae into the river’s estuaries.

Sediment Transport

South Atlantic Bight coastal areas are battered annually by hurricanes and extra-tropical storms that affect shoreline stability, distribution of sand resources, and may result in loss of property and human lives. Dr. Lynn Leonard ’s laboratory monitors and assesses the impacts of high-energy storm events on sediment transport, seafloor characteristics, and the ecology of nearshore coastal ecosystems, including “live bottom” reefs and coastal wetlands.


As a fundamental tool for reconstructing past oceanographic conditions and forecasting future conditions, hydrodynamic and ecological models are being developed for the North Carolina coastal waters and the Cape Fear River estuarine system. The Coastal and Estuarine Marine Prediction System (CEMAPS) and Cape Fear River Estuary (CFRE) models are being developed by a team lead by Dr. Lian Xie and Dr. Len Pietrafesa at North Carolina State University.