Nutrient Monitoring in the Chesapeake Bay

Akinyele Oni and Niangoran Koissi; Morgan State University, Baltimore, Maryland


The Chesapeake Bay waters receive input from rivers and streams from areas of Washington D.C, Maryland, Delaware, Virginia, West Virginia, and some parts of New York and Pennsylvania. Historically, humongous amounts of water pollution from nutrients discharged from these locations have reportedly occurred in the waters of the Chesapeake Bay region, such that it was entered into the list of the "Clean Water Act Section 303(d): Impaired Waters and Total Maximum Daily Loads (TMDLs)," compiled by the EPA. Water impairment occurs when a lake, river, or stream fails to meet specific water quality standards, according to its classification and intended use.

According to the Chesapeake Bay Program, established in 1983 to reduce pollution and restore the ecosystem, "Plants and animals need nutrients to survive. But when too many nutrients enter waterways, they fuel the growth of algae blooms and create conditions that are harmful to underwater life." Source: Chesapeake Bay Program: Learn the Issues.

Strengths of Module                                                        

The strengths of the Module include, but not limited to, the following:

  • Creating public awareness, through the education of scholars, of the challenges and danger posed by excessive nutrients entering into surrounding waters.
  • Impartation of the knowledge of basic environmental management and control.
  • Teaching the population of young scholars how the monitoring and controlling of permissible levels of nutrients that are allowed into the waters without causing any harm is done.
  • Teaching the basic mathematical skills using large data sets, including: data gathering, data analysis, and data presentation.

What does success look like 

Learning Goals:

  • Identification and explanation of water impairment and surrounding issues.
  • Listing of the factors that contribute to water impairment.
  • Definition of nutrient pollution and surrounding issues.
  • Explanation of the effects of nutrient pollution leading to water impairment in the Chesapeake Bay.
  • Evaluation of phosphorus concentration in waters of the Chesapeake Bay.
  • Examination of the sources and effects of natural and anthropogenic fluxes of phosphorus into the waters of the Chesapeake Bay.
  • Determination of the flow and concentrations of other types of nutrients into the Chesapeake Bay.

Learning Outcomes: Students will be able to do the following:

a. Define water impairment and list the factors leading to impairment as related to nutrient pollution.

b. Perform basic computer-based operational procedures to acquire nutrient-flow dataset from Chesapeake Bay Program website.

c. Use an Excel Spreadsheet to cleanup, analyze and interpret a dataset on phosphorus concentration, as well as other nutrients.

d. Analyze the spatial and temporal distribution of phosphorus in the data set.

e. Discuss the effects of phosphorus pollution.

d. Examine what other nutrients may cause pollution [by repeating steps (c.) through (e.) above].

Context for Use

This entire module can be completed in one 3-hour lab period or two 50-minute lecture periods for introductory or intermediate level students. It could start with a discussion about data manipulation and graphing. If students have experience with graphing in Excel, it is possible to complete Activities A and B within a single class period (Activity C could be assigned for homework). One option is to have students complete as much as possible in a single class period, complete the rest for homework, and to use the subsequent class period for discussion of their results.

This module has been used in a range of courses. For a large Introductory Biology and Biochemistry course comprised primarily first year students, the module was completed in the laboratory sections and discussed during lecture as part of a water module.

How Instructors Have Used This Module

Using the Project EDDIE Nutrient Monitoring in the Chesapeake Bay module in Foundations in Biology I - Biodiversity and Organismal Systems
Akinyele Oni, Morgan State University
The dwindling seafood population in the Chesapeake Bay is connected to the increasing level of pollution such as high levels of nutrient inflow.Efforts are now being geared towards the cleanup as well as the monitoring of the inflow to ensure adherence to standards.This module is developed to create awareness in the scholars' population of the need to monitor and control permissible levels of nutrients that are allowed into the waters without causing any harm.

Description and Teaching Materials

The requisite teaching materials with their descriptions are provided in the appropriate sections below.

Why this Matters:

Students will understand some of the environmental issues that relate to nutrient pollution in the Chesapeake Bay waters, and will be able to relate it to similar issues in other water bodies in general. They will learn to use the simplified steps of data collection, cleaning up of dataset, data analysis, and data manipulation using an Excel spreadsheet for the overall purpose of quantitative reasoning. Decision-making with the use of data is an overarching goal of this module.

Quick Outline/Overview of the activities in this module (See "Teaching Materials" for details).

A. Introduction to reading materials and other resources on water impairment and water quality

B. Introduction to nutrient Issues and accessing water quality data set from Chesapeake Bay Program website.

C. Selecting data set on Phosphorus and plotting of a graph of Phosphorus concentration v. Time

D. Determine the variations of Phosphorus concentration against Time

E. Compare and contrast seasonal variations (if any).

F. Work with other types of nutrients data available on the website.

  • Pre-module work: PowerPoint Presentation and Discussions on topics related to the subject matter.
  • Activity A: Determine the changes in Phosphorus concentrations over time at a chosen sampling location. See "Teaching Notes and Tips" below.
  • Activity B: Explore changes in Phosphorus concentrations over time at another sampling location in the dataset. Compare your results with those of Activity A. See "Teaching Notes and Tips" below.
  • Activity C: Explore other nutrient inflow from other locations. See "Teaching Notes and Tips" below.

Teaching Materials:

  • Instructor's Power point (PowerPoint 2007 (.pptx) 11.6MB Nov2 21)
  • Student Handout. (Microsoft Word 2007 (.docx) 116kB Nov2 21)
  • Sample Dataset (Excel 2007 (.xlsx) 36kB Oct26 21)
  • Dataset (Available at Chesapeake Bay Program) Enter search criteria such as example below:
    • CBP Water Quality data (1984 -present)
      • Water Quality Data
      • 10/29/2014 to 10/29/2019
      • SWM- Shallow Water Monitoring Programs
      • CMON-Tidal Continuous Water Quality Monitoring Project
      • Small Watershed (HUC12)
      • Select Attribute "Potomac River Channel" 
      • Select Parameter "Total Dissolved Nitrate"


Teaching Notes and Tips

See the

and Instructor's PowerPoint (PowerPoint 2007 (.pptx) 11.6MB Nov2 21) for notes and tips for carrying out this exercise.

Workflow of this module:

  1. Assign subject-matter-related pre-class readings.
  2. Give students their handout when they arrive to class.
  3. Instructor gives brief PowerPoint presentation with background material. Discussion of the readings can be integrated into this presentation or done before.
  4. Students can then work through the module activities.

Measures of Student Success

  1. When they are able to use Excel to:
    • Calculate the distribution of Phosphorus (and other nutrients) from the data set.
    • Calculate daily/weekly/seasonal averages, as may be shown in the data set.
    • Compare different time periods of data set collection and distribution of Phosphorus (and other nutrients).
    • Produce graphs that show the distribution of Phosphorus (and other nutrients) based on the parameters evident in the data set.
  2. Discuss the patterns evident from the graphs produced.


Students will learn to do the following and will be assessed based on:

a. The use of an Excel Spreadsheet to analyze data set on nutrient concentration.

b. Interpretation of the data set with respect to many years (5+) timeline.

c. Spatial and temporal distribution of nutrients in the data set.

d. What might be the effect of nutrients pollution?

e. What other nutrients may cause pollution?

References and Resources