EPA Newport Coastal Environmental Research

Coastal Environmental Research 

Scientists at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency laboratory in Newport, Oregon, conduct research to assess the effects of stressors like pollution and climate change on coastal ecosystems, and how that affects public health, the economy and people’s well-being. Located on the Hatfield Marine Science Center campus in Newport, Oregon, our facilities include flowing seawater, large experimental mesocosms, cutting-edge analytical instruments, boats, and hovercraft, all used to support our coastal environmental research.

The videos below provide a glimpse into our coastal environmental research.

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EPA’s Pacific Ecological Systems Division

Formally, the Newport lab is part of EPA’s Pacific Ecological Systems Division (PESD) in the Office of Research and Development. PESD’s mission is to provide the research to assesses the condition of freshwater, terrestrial, and estuarine ecosystems, and how environmental condition affects beneficial uses of those ecosystems. Our team provides scientific leadership for national and regional-scale ecology and develops the scientific basis for assessing the condition of ecosystems and their response to natural and anthropogenic stresses. 

Recent research projects at the EPA Newport facility include: 

  • Ocean acidification affects estuarine water quality and changes in estuarine chemistry can alter shellfish development. A global issue!
  • Nutrient and fecal pollution affect estuarine water quality and ecosystems.  PESD research focuses on tracking co-pollutants to estuarine systems using stable isotopes to identify nitrogen source and microbial source tracking. A global issue!
  • Researchers economically measure and account for the services provided by aquatic ecosystems to people and the economy. These methods determine the value of maintaining seagrass to support healthy fish habitat and methods to determine the impact of rising ocean temperature on shellfish. Research is conducted along the Oregon coast but addresses a global issue!
  • A modeling methodology for producing habitat maps for harvested clams was developed and validated for Pacific NW estuaries. The habitat suitability models were developed from existing natural history literature on the environmental tolerances of each clam species. 
  • Researchers use geophysical technologies to understand the geology and hydrogeology which govern the transport of the contaminants through groundwater. These are globally important technologies!
  • Microbiologists study the role of coastal bacteria in human health and marine ecosystem health through a synthesis of microscopy and molecular-based methodologies. Research is conducted along the Oregon coast but addresses a global issue!

Aerial view of an estuary in the background. A picture of an oxygen sensor is pictured above it with the words, "Instruments monitor CO2, pH, salinity, temperature, oxygen, etc. every 5 mintues.

Identifying the causes and the extent of ocean acidification is key to understanding the types of environmental and human impacts as well as determining what our options are to minimize those impacts. Researchers use instrumentation like this to understand acidification. See the video on Coastal Acidification.

A red and orange heat sensor image of a wooded area with a section of blue in the center. Text reads, "Using geophysics to trace contaminated groundwater."

Medicine has really improved with the invention of X-ray, MRI and CT scan technologies. Similarly, technologies for studying geophysics (measuring and analyzing properties below the Earth’s surface) have improved our ability to understand what goes on underground. Researchers use a range of instrumentation to study groundwater contamination, movement of oil through barrier islands, and to learn about salt-water intrusion. See the video on Geophysics.

EPA scientists in a boat on a bay use trawl seine nets to measure if the effects of eelgrass affect junvenile crab populations.

EPA scientists investigate if changes in seagrasses affect juvenile crabs and fishes. There have been global declines in seagrass, which have ecological impacts, and seagrasses are sensitive to nutrient pollution and increases in water temperature. This research seeks to understand if nutrient pollution harms Dungeness crab and finfish fisheries. Results from projects like this local effort are relevant for estuaries everywhere.

An aerial view of a river with colored areas to indicate different types of habitat quality for cockles in the Yaquina Bay Estuary, Oregon.

EPA researchers study more than environmental impacts. Studying the benefits people receive from nature helps inform smarter and more sustainable decision-making. This local project, mapping the suitable habitat for valuable seafood, uses the same approaches in estuaries everywhere. See the video on Ecosystem Services.

A woman measures the size of fish in a boat.

This early-career researcher is identifying and measuring finfishes captured in a trawl seine net as part of a study on how changes in seagrass abundance affect populations of crabs and fishes in Oregon estuaries. See the video on A Day in the Life.

A man kneels at the side of a muddy river bank with measuring equipment.

To understand the global impacts of climate change at the local scale, EPA scientists are studying how salt marshes contribute to the long-term storage of carbon (carbon sequestration) and the reduction of nutrient pollution in estuaries. These researchers are measuring how below-ground microbial processes affect the transformation and movement of nitrogen and carbon in salt marsh soils. See the video on Nutrients and Bacteria.


Matt Harwell, Branch Supervisor
Pacific Coastal Ecology Branch
Pacific Ecological Systems Division

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