System-Wide Monitoring Program

The National Estuarine Research Reserve System (NERRS) established a System-Wide Monitoring Program (SWMP) in 1995 with a primary mission to develop quantitative measurements of short-term variability and long-term changes in the water quality, biological systems, and land-use / land-cover characteristics of estuaries and estuarine ecosystems for the purposes of informing effective coastal zone management.

The SWMP is intended to be a robust, long-term, and versatile monitoring program, with the capacity to address a comprehensive suite of coastal management issues to improve understanding and inform decisions affecting estuaries and coastal watersheds. NERRS has identified three fundamental questions that information provided by SWMP should address:

  • How do environmental conditions vary through space and time within the network of NERRS sites?
  • How does ecosystem function vary through space and time within critical NERRS habitats?
  • To what extent are changes in estuarine ecosystems represented by the NERRS attributable to natural variability versus anthropogenic activity?

SWMP is also designed to improve understanding and inform coastal management decisions by:

  • Synthesizing and interpreting data
  • Translating and disseminating information that it is useful to coastal decision makers
  • Training and educating teachers, students, community members, and other stakeholders in the use of SWMP data and data product

The SWMP is currently organized around four key elements for focus research across the System:

  • NERRS Wetlands and Water Levels (Formerly Sentinel Site Application Modules)
  • Habitat Mapping
  • Water Quality (Abiotic)

The North Carolina National Estuarine Research Reserve is currently conducting monitoring in each SWMP element at one or more reserve sites. By using standard operating procedures across all 28 national reserves, SWMP data helps establish the NERRS as a system of nation-wide reference sites, as well a network of sentinel sites for detecting and understanding the effects of changing conditions in coastal regions. 

The 2011 NERRS System-wide Monitoring Program Plan describes SWMP and its role in supporting the NERRS mission and strategic goals, details the existing capacity in SWMP, and outlines an implementation and development plan for the program.


North Carolina SWMP data is available from the NERRS Centralized Data Management Office

For questions about the NCNERR's SWMP data, please contact the research staff.