The Washington Post

EPA scientist tracks the health of the ocean and other waterways

(Photo: Darvene Adams/EPA)

For some three decades, Darvene Adams has focused her attention on monitoring water quality and seeking to curb pollution in the ocean, bays, harbors and estuaries of the New Jersey and New York region.

As a scientist for a regional office of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Adams has been involved in numerous projects to test the health of waterways, measure the levels of contamination and determine the sources.

“I am providing the data and information we need to make better decisions,” said Adams. “The information helps the public and policymakers figure out what the problems are and how to respond.”

One innovative project has involved use of a 6-foot yellow submersible known as a Slocum Glider that resembles a torpedo with wings. For three summers, the glider has traveled the length of the New Jersey coastline and gone down to 120-foot depths to take readings of dissolved oxygen, salinity and temperature.

The glider resurfaces every two hours, transmitting data to scientists who have been seeking to understand why the ocean tends to have low levels of oxygen, particularly in the summer. Low levels of oxygen can cause fish kills and algae blooms, creating great harm to the scallops, oysters, clams and other seafood harvested off New Jersey’s coast each year.

Who is Darvene Adams?

POSITION: Monitoring Coordinator, Staff Scientist, Environmental Protection Agency, Region 2

RESIDENCE: South Plainfield, N.J.

AGE: 56

EDUCATION: B.S. Biology, Montclair State College. B.S. biology; Rutgers University, M.S. environmental science

AWARDS: EPA Bronze Medals and EPA Office of Research and Development Honor Award

HOBBIES: Genealogy and gardening

VOLUNTEER WORK: Church choir

Adams said New Jersey has long considered its coastal waters to be “impaired” based on low amounts of dissolved oxygen, but she pointed out that this assessment was based on limited data. So far, Adams said, the extensive data from the glider has not found the oxygen levels to be as low as expected. She said sea life is thriving, and there is now a belief that some lower oxygen levels discovered in the summer months may be the result of natural occurrences, not pollution.

Adams also has been involved in monitoring the impact of Hurricane Sandy on New Jersey and New York waterways, charting the flow of the millions of gallons of raw and partially treated sewage that was released before and after the storm. The effort is part of a study to assess the long-term effects of Sandy on the coastal waters in both states.

In addition, she has worked on the regular assessment of the water and sediment quality of New York Harbor complex, has been deeply involved in the monitoring of the water quality of lakes, rivers and streams in New Jersey and New York, and has had exploring why Barnegat Bay, New Jersey’s largest estuary, has been invaded by jelly fish. She also has been involved with the EPA effort to use the International Space Station as a monitoring platform for ocean health.

Randy Braun, the acting chief of the EPA Region 2 Monitoring and Assessment Branch, said Adams is creative, thorough, collects impeccable data and is always “thinking outside the box.”

“She is always thinking of better ways to do things,” said Braun, “She is passionate about her work, loves the environment, wants to make it better and protect human health.”

Adams said that she became interested in environmental issues while in college when she worked with a fisheries biologist who was involved in providing scientific evidence as to why a major highway project on the West Side of Manhattan that involved filling in parts of the Hudson River should not go forward.

“This was one of the largest and longest New York City development battles and in the end, it was determined that it would cause irreparable harm to striped bass and the project was halted,’ said Adams. “It was inspiring to see government scientists, armed with scientific data and determination, `speak for the fish’ and help halt the project. I decided that EPA would be the place for me.”

Adams said she initially worked for the National Marine Fisheries Service in Woods Hole, Mass. studying aspects of fish stocks in the northeast Atlantic Ocean, and for the state of New Jersey revising water quality criteria. She started at EPA in 1983 as a summer employee taking ocean water samples, and has been there ever since.

“I tell people I have my dream job. Every day I use my education and my skills to make the world a better environment for all of us,” said Adams.

This article was jointly prepared by the Partnership for Public Service, a group seeking to enhance the performance of the federal government, and Go to the Fed Page of The Washington Post to read about other federal workers who are making a difference. To recommend a Federal Player of the Week, contact us at

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