Date of Award

Winter 2000

Project Type


Program or Major

Natural Resources

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

First Advisor

Dork Sahagian


A systematic reconstruction of Multiple Marine Ecological Disturbances (MMEDs) involving disease occurrence, morbidity and mortality events has been undertaken so that a taxonomy of globally distributed marine disturbance types can be better quantified and common forcing factors identified. Combined disturbance data include indices of morbidity, mortality and disease events affecting humans, marine invertebrates, flora and wildlife populations. In the search for the best disturbance indicators of ecosystem change, the unifying solution for joining data from disparate fields is to organize data into space/time/topic hierarchies that permit convergence of data due to shared and appropriate scaling. The scale of the data selects for compatible methodologies, leading to better data integration, dine series reconstruction and the discovery of new relationships. Information technology approaches designed to assist this process include bibliographic keyword searches, data-mining, data-modeling and geographic information system design. "Expert" consensus, spatial, temporal, categorical and statistical data reduction methods are used to reclassify thousands of independent anomaly observations into eight functional impact groups representing anoxic-hypoxic, biotoxin-exposure, disease, keystone-chronic, mass-lethal, new-novel-invasive, physically forced and trophic-magnification disturbances.

Data extracted from the relational database and Internet ( geographic information system demonstrate non-random patterns relative to expected dependencies. When data are combined they better reflect response to exogenous forcing factors at larger scales (e.g. North Atlantic and Southern Ocean Oscillation index scales) than is apparent without grouping. New hypotheses have been generated linking MMEDs to climate system "forcing", variability and changes within the Northwestern Atlantic Ocean, Gulf of Mexico and Caribbean Sea. A more general global survey known collectively as the Health Ecological and Economic Dimensions (HEED) project demonstrates the potential application of the methodology to the Baltic Sea and other large marine ecosystems. The rescue of multi-decadal climatic, oceanographic, fisheries economic, and public health anomaly data combined with MMED data provides a tool to help researchers create regional disturbance regimes to illustrate disturbance impact. A recommendation for a central data repository is proposed to better coordinate the many data observers, resource managers, and agencies collecting pieces of marine disturbance information needed for monitoring ecosystem condition.