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Center for

Environment & Society

Chester River Watershed Observatory

Our vision is a Chesapeake Bay and watershed that is healthy and thriving; one in which natural systems and human communities are in balance. Interdisciplinary academic programs promote the integration of environmental issues, social values, and good old river mud.

This pioneer observatory will allow us to take the pulse of every aspect of the watershed. The data and results will be Internet available to agencies, academics, resource managers, and scientists. It will be melded with hands-on, experiential learning opportunities for formal and informal educators throughout the Chester River Watershed. The program will be exportable to other local, regional, national and global water bodies.

To learn more about the organization of the Chester River Watershed Observatory, click here.


  • The program will be tied to the social, economic and cultural aspects of the watershed.
  • A series of observation buoys throughout the river will allow the recording, archiving, and forecasting of water quality conditions in the Chester River.
  • 18 schools in the Chester River Watershed will be fitted with a full functioning, Internet connected, weather station. This will allow the microclimate within the watershed to be monitored and analyzed.
  • STEM education will be integrated across the watershed curriculum through interactive hands-on programs (developed by CES staff) including: Build a Buoy, Basic Observation Buoys, and Aquabotz.
  • Through the Rivers to the Bay program, teachers will learn how to use the river and the watershed as a means for teaching science, history, reading, math, art, and leadership.
  • Benthic and shoreline habitats will be mapped using the Callinectes, the Lookdown, and Autonomous Underwater Vehicles. The results will be melded with aerial imagery to reveal the bathymetry of the river.
  • Technology will be introduced that allows scientists to monitor and measure fish moving to and from the Bay.
  • Models that simulate river flow under a variety of conditions will be constructed and available online. The models will help convey where best management practices may improve water quality.



Using PVC pieces and Frisbees, students as young as kindergarten-age learn to put together a small floating platform. The challenge is, how many golf balls can your buoy hold? They design and build their platforms and then test them in tubs filled with water. They learn about the importance of creating a buoy with a low center of gravity to help balance the golf balls. After they’ve successfully supported the golf balls, they get a thermometer to record air and water temperature. They attached this to their buoy, and they have just built their first observation buoy.

Basic Observation Buoys (BOB)

This is a more advanced version of the Build-A-Buoy, again constructed of PVC, hardware, and pegboard. This buoy is large and stable enough to carry more instrumentation to gather more data. Students build the buoy and con monitor and collect data including water and air temperature, conductivity, and salinity. They can see the data online in their classrooms.


Aquabotz is a remote-controlled robot that swims underwater. Using basic materials including PVC pipes and off-the-shelf hardware, as well as switches, a controller, speaker wire, a battery, and a propeller, students design and build an underwater vehicle that can be operated remotely from the surface. Students can attach waterproof cameras to the robot to capture images below the surface. The Aquabotz is powered by DC and so is completely safe in water. Combined with the BOB, the Aquabotz allows students in grades 6 through 12 to monitor water and air temperature, conductivity, salinity, and dissolved oxygen, and view the data online.

Rivers To Bay Program

Funded by the Maryland Department of Education in partnership with Kent and Queen Anne’s counties, this program educates the educators about the Chester River watershed and the data gathering techniques that will form the backbone of information for the CRWO. Teachers physically travel the river, in kayaks and then in the College’s research vessel Callinectes, from its headwaters to its mouth. They also participate in classroom and field study to learn a variety of classroom skills to integrate into their curricula, including using GPS and GIS to map the watershed, learning how to build BOBS, Aquabotz and other buoys, gathering samples in the water column as well as along the shoreline, and building and implementing sensors to monitor parameters including temperature, salinity, turbidity, dissolved oxygen, pH, nitrates, and phosphates. Last summer, 20 teachers participated in this program.