SWMP Graphing Tool

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Download Water Quality and Weather Data Using the SWMP Graphing Tool

The System-wide Monitoring Program, or SWMP (pronounced “swamp”), Graphing Tool, available at coast.noaa.gov/swmp, provides educators and students with access to SWMP data.

All SWMP data sets are accessible through the Centralized Data Management Office, which is responsible for maintaining and updating the system-wide standard operating procedures for data collection and reporting, plus quality assurance and control. The system was designed primarily for scientists, but data-savvy students and educators may also use it to access SWMP data sets and metadata.

To obtain the metadata for the SWMP data, contact the Centralized Data Management Office. Data documentation includes the designation of rejected, suspect, and corrected data and additional quality assurance and quality control information about the data in the form of flags and codes embedded in the data file.

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SWMP Scenarios for Using the Graphing Data Tool

The following SWMP scenarios can be used to explore real events using the SWMP graphing tool. Give your students these scenarios to graph. Have them analyze each parameter to find out what happened, whether there was a significant change or spike in a parameter, why something occurred, who or what was impacted, and why. These scenarios are actual events tracked by reserve system researchers.

Graph Events

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Event Type Data Type Parameters Dates Location Visualization Tool Story
Effects of Hurricane Sandy in the Jacques Cousteau Research Reserve Hurricane Sandy Water Quality, Weather Depth, Salinity October 25, 2012, to November 9, 2012 Jacques Cousteau, New Jersey SWMP Graphing Tool

Effects of Hurricane Sandy in the Jacques Cousteau Research Reserve

Post-Tropical Storm Sandy made landfall in New Jersey during the early evening hours of October 29, 2012, lasting two days and impacting several reserves from Chesapeake, Virginia, through Maine. Although Sandy affected 24 East Coast states, the devastation was the most pronounced on the coasts of New Jersey and New York. Atlantic City, just south of the Jacques Cousteau Research Reserve, recorded its lowest air pressure on record and Sandy Hook, New Jersey, recorded a storm surge of over 13 feet (about 8 feet above the average high tide). Current damage estimates from Sandy range from $30 to $50 billion dollars.

One of the contributing factors for Sandy’s destructive power was the arrival of the storm during a rising full-moon tide, which meant the surge was stacked on top of an already extreme water level. The data logger at Lower Bank, which is located at the freshwater-saltwater interface, recorded the greatest storm surge of the water quality stations because the surge was funneled from the wide bay into the narrow river, forcing the water upward. The arrival of this storm surge from the ocean is also evident in the salinity recorded at Lower Bank, which is typically almost fresh.

March Madness at the Wells Research Reserve Flooding Event Water Quality, Weather Salinity, Water Temperature, Precipitation March 25, 2010, to April 5, 2010 Wells, Maine SWMP Graphing Tool

March Madness at the Wells Research Reserve

The Wells National Estuarine Research Reserve had 16 inches of rainfall in the month of March in 2010. One particular storm brought 4 inches of rain in a 24 hour period. During this heavy rainstorm, the salinity crashed to zero and remained that way for many days, while water temperature rose steadily. These conditions were a result of the increased presence of the warmer runoff rainwater.

This event had a big impact on the benthic community in the Little River, including erosion and loss or alteration of habitat. Worms, clams, and even many crabs died and were pushed out of the mud because of the 24-48 hour stretch of freshwater input. The estuary was saturated with freshwater, which completely changed the chemistry of not only the water (temp, salinity, pH, turb, etc.), but also the chemistry of the underlying soils. This event also reshaped the mouth of the Little River with some dramatic washing out of the beach sand in and around the mouth, exposing the underlying peat from centuries old salt marshes.

This event shattered some long standing state records for rainfall. The amount of stormwater runoff from this event overpowered the incoming tide for almost 2 days, which was a shock to the system. Climate change predictions call for more frequent and more severe weather events like these. This is a very small estuary in the grand scheme of things that simply can’t handle that type of freshwater input.

Tracking the Record March 2010 Rains in Narragansett Bay Flooding Event Water Quality, Weather Salinity, Turbidity, Dissolved Oxygen, Precipitation March 2010 Narragansett Bay, Rhode Island SWMP Graphing Tool

Tracking the Record March 2010 Rains in Narragansett Bay

Historic rainfall flooded Rhode Island in March 2010. Some accounts called it the worst flooding in 200 years. Much of the runoff eventually made its way into Narragansett Bay. A bay-wide network of water quality stations monitors storm impacts such as this, when massive amounts of freshwater flow into the bay.

Two year-round stations located on Prudence are operated by the Narragansett Bay Research Reserve. The reserve also maintains a weather station measuring factors like wind direction, rainfall, and humidity. Shortly after March’s heavy rains, scientists at the reserve used weather and water quality data from the station at the T-Wharf off Prudence’s south end in the East Passage of the bay to examine the effects of the rain on the bay. Researchers took an in-depth look at the bay’s salinity (saltiness), turbidity (clarity), and dissolved oxygen levels. All three of these parameters greatly impact the health of the bay’s wildlife. According to the reserve’s weather station, a total of 46.5 centimeters (cm) (18.3 inches) of rain fell between March 1 and April 15, 2010, most of it in three major consecutive storms. From March 13 to 15, the stations measured 10.4 cm (4.1 inches) of rain, from March 22 to 23, 10.4 cm (4.1 inches), and from March 29 to 30 another 22.9 cm (9.0 inches). In comparison, average rainfall between March 1 and April 15 over the previous three years was only 18.4 cm (7.2 inches). Use the SWMP graphing application to create a graph that shows how the rainfall affected salinity levels in the bay, specifically at the T-Wharf.

Salinity is important, since many animals can only live within certain salinity ranges. Too much freshwater can spell disaster for young shellfish and fish. Interestingly, salinity at the T-Wharf did not appear to be largely affected by the first two rain events, but the third and largest event from March 29 to 30 resulted in a substantial drop in salinity to about 17 parts per thousand (ppt). Ocean salinities worldwide average about 35 ppt and the bay hovers around 28-32 ppt. Salinity levels as low as 17 parts per thousand have never been observed at the T-Wharf monitoring station in the 14 years that the station has been active prior to 2010. By April 15, 2010, salinity had increased back to 21 ppt, indicating that this unusual drop in salinity was relatively short-lived. Plot a second graph that shows the March rainstorms graphed with turbidity levels. Turbidity, or clarity, which is impacted by suspended particles in the water, such as sediment and phytoplankton, impacts how well planktonic plants and eelgrass grow, since they depend on sunlight penetrating the water to photosynthesize. When graphed, the water clarity showed zero turbidity before the first rain event, and that turbidity increased dramatically after the rain. Turbidity again increased after the third and largest March rain event, but then quickly improved.

The third and last graph to create for this event shows the relationship between dissolved oxygen levels and rainfall. Unlike the salinity and turbidity levels graphed here, dissolved oxygen did not show any clear patterns related to the rain events. In addition, dissolved oxygen never dropped below 10.5 milligrams per liter and never approached critically low oxygen levels, which can lead to major fish kills. These results clearly show that the rain events in March 2010 impacted some, but not all, water quality parameters in the middle of Narragansett Bay.

Buried Forest Emerges at South Cape Beach: Watch Your Step but Take a Second Look Sea Level Rise Water Quality, Weather Precipitation, Wind, Waves, Tides March 2010 Massachusetts Sea Level Rise Viewer, SWMP Graphing Tool

Buried Forest Emerges at South Cape Beach: Watch Your Step but Take a Second Look

Scores of old tree stumps and concentrations of tangled roots now stick out of the sand near the low tide waterline at South Cape Beach in Mashpee, poking their dark stubbly tops above the sea surface. The recurring storms of March 2010, packing strong southeasterly winds and waves, caused significant erosion to some parts of the Nantucket and Vineyard Sound south-facing shoreline. The removal of tons of overlying beach sand has allowed the long hidden and buried remains of what was once a coastal plain forest to emerge on the ocean side of the beach.

Sharp stumps and tangled roots make the area hazardous to swimmers and fishermen; the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR), which manages the beach, is therefore limiting these activities in the immediate area. Safety issue aside, however, the find is “scientifically very interesting” says Dr. Chris Weidman, the research coordinator for the Waquoit Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve, of which the state beach is a part. According to Dr. Weidman, the “forest may be quite old, perhaps 200 to 1,000 years,” based on the stumps’ subtidal elevation relative to today’s sea level.

“This is classic evidence of shoreline retreat,” says Dr. Weidman, “a forest of what looks like mostly juniper trees is now exposed at low tide.” He suggested that the sea level has risen, so that what was once forest is now a few feet underwater. Even though coastal scientists have long known that Cape Cod is eroding away and that the ocean is rising, this is a dramatic illustration of dynamic coastal processes at work. The exposure of this old forest is giving scientists at Waquoit Bay Research Reserve an opportunity to measure the local rate of sea level rise more precisely.

Effects of Big Storms in San Francisco Bay Flooding Event Water Quality, Weather Salinity December 1, 2005, to January 30, 2006 San Francisco Bay, California SWMP Graphing Tool

Effects of Big Storms in San Francisco Bay

In late December 2005, a big storm caused widespread flooding in the San Francisco estuary’s watershed. So much rain fell that the salinity at China Camp State Park, part of the San Francisco Bay Research Reserve, fell and stayed near zero. The low salinity event appears to have caused 100% mortality in the native oyster population at China Camp. That die-off spurred several locally focused research projects about native oysters, including an education project that had students working with researchers. The oyster population has recovered at China Camp and there are now higher densities of oysters there than other places in the monitoring program. Each winter interested scientists watch the SWMP data, wondering if the oysters will survive the rainy season.

Mississippi Hurricane Katrina Water Quality, Weather Depth, Wind Speed August 8, 2005, to September 9, 2005 Grand Bay, Mississippi SWMP Graphing Tool


All reserves have at least four water quality monitoring stations and one weather station. Hurricane Katrina on August 29 took out one of the weather stations and the water quality monitoring station attached to it at the Grand Bay Research Reserve. Located on the eastern side of the storm, the reserve was hit extremely hard, receiving approximately 9 feet of tidal surge and days of flooding.

The stations recorded water depth of 17 feet, and maximum winds of over 65 miles per hour just before the weather station was carried away by storm surge. After this event, the platform and memory unit were recovered almost two miles northwest of the station’s pre-storm location. Fortunately, reserve staff members were able to retrieve the data. Data indicate the weather station was submerged by 2.6 feet (0.8 meters) of water for about 3.5 hours during the storm surge, which reached 14.19[ feet (4.3 meters) at this site. Initial dissolved oxygen (DO), salinity, and depth data demonstrate the tidal influence and the salinity drop as a result of the rain associated with the storm. DO data demonstrate typical post-storm hypoxia. Excess biota in the water column increases the demand for oxygen. The heavily mixed water column accounts for the increase in turbidity.

Hurricane Ivan Hits Weeks Bay, Alabama Hurricane Ivan Water Quality, Weather Salinity, Turbidity, Dissolved Oxygen, Precipitation, Water Temperature September 2004 Weeks Bay, Alabama SWMP Graphing Tool

Hurricane Ivan Hits Weeks Bay, Alabama

On September 23, 2004, the Weeks Bay Research Reserve was scheduled to lead a live, online, educational broadcast called EstuaryLive. But nature had different plans. Hurricane Ivan hit Weeks Bay on September 16—one week prior. The eye of the hurricane passed almost directly over the reserve, causing extensive damage. Amidst the cleanup efforts, the Weeks Bay EstuaryLive team rewrote about 20 minutes of its 60-minute program to take advantage of the educational information their SWMP weather and water quality data loggers collected as the storm passed.

Reserve staff members prepared graphs from their weather and water data loggers to teach the EstuaryLive audience in classrooms around the country what happens during a hurricane. One example: a spike in the water level in Weeks Bay during the post-hurricane storm surge reached almost 2 meters above mean high tide.

Through the EstuaryLive Weeks Bay segment, students were able to see pre- and post-storm effects, view a data logger and its results, ask questions of a meteorology student, and see sediment deposition in an actual core, on map, and on-site. Hurricane data can also be accessed by teachers with their classes online.

This broadcast can be viewed on EstuaryLive Video: Weeks Bay Alabama – “Mud?! Who Knew?”