U.Va. Celebrates Opening of New Coastal Research Center

Aug. 28, 2006 -- A dedication ceremony for the University of Virginia’s new $2.5 million Anheuser-Busch Coastal Research Center was held at the facility on the Eastern Shore on Saturday, Aug. 26. The center is the new home base for the Long-Term Ecological Research project conducted by U.Va. environmental scientists. The state-of-the-art facility is located on 42 acres in the town of Oyster, about 15 miles north of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel. It includes more than 9,400 square feet of dry and wet lab space, a 5,800-square foot residence building that can accommodate 30 people, and a dock for its fleet of four shallow water research vessels.

Speakers included U.Va. President John T. Casteen III; Jay Zieman, chair of the Department of Environmental Sciences; Karen McGlathery, director of the Anheuser-Busch Coastal Research Center; officials from the Nature Conservancy, the National Science Foundation and other federal and state agencies; and U.Va. alumnus John L. Nau III, owner of an Anheuser-Busch distributorship who played an instrumental role in gaining a $1.25 million gift from the Anheuser-Busch Companies to help build the new center.

U.Va. has been conducting research through the LTER since 1986 with major support from the National Science Foundation, as well as various other research grants and private donations. Recently the research was re-funded by the NSF through its LTER program, which includes a network of environmental projects at 26 sites across the North American continent. The grant will provide the center with $820,000 per year for six years.

The new center will greatly expand and enhance the research capability of scientists working on the Eastern Shore. It provides first-rate laboratory and housing facilities for faculty, visiting researchers and students. The facility is networked with other research sites and scientists are able to remotely access real-time data and observations from monitoring equipment located at field sites. The facility also has a conference room for community outreach projects including a planned lecture series. The Center will serve as a magnet to attract visiting researchers and graduate students.

U.Va.’s LTER research focuses on the barrier islands, lagoons, tidal marshes and watersheds of the 45,000-acre Virginia Coast Reserve, which is owned and managed by the Nature Conservancy. Because the area is undeveloped, and also because of the very fine grain sand that makes up the barrier islands, the reserve is one of the best places on the east coast for studying barrier island geology and coastal ecology. These are some of the most rapidly changing islands on earth, altering shape at a rate that is about 10 times faster than in most other coastal areas, therefore the reserve serves as a living laboratory for understanding natural processes that occur all along the sandy coasts of the United States.

Researchers at the LTER are working to develop a predictive understanding of how climate and land use influence the dynamics of coastal barrier ecosystems. Scientists at the center monitor sea level rise, storm frequencies, groundwater flow rates, marsh growth and erosion, water chemistry, finned fish and shellfish populations, vegetation, (including a sea grass restoration project, in conjunction with the Virginia Institute of Marine Science) and bird and mammal populations.

The new center is a huge improvement over an aging farmhouse that had previously been used as a station. The University will further expand the center in coming years, and is expected to draw top environmental scientists from across the United States. U.Va. scientists already are collaborating at the center with researchers from the Virginia Institute for Marine Science, East Carolina University, Old Dominion, Florida State, VCU, Utah State, the Naval Research Lab and the Virginia Museum of Natural History.