Technical Integrity / Collaboration / Exceptional Results

Kenia Whitehead to Present on Environmental Impacts to Benthic Communities

Benthic community evaluation and the determination of biological impairment is a critical component in the ecological assessment of contaminated sediment sites.

Integral Consultant Kenia Whitehead, Ph.D., will deliver a platform presentation at the 2017 Ecological Society of America (ESA) Annual Meeting held August 6–11, 2017, in Portland, Oregon. This year’s meeting will feature sessions with an emphasis on relationships among biodiversity, material cycling, and ecosystem services.

Assessments of the benthic community—the organisms that live in and on the bottom of the ocean floor—can be difficult given the many factors that need to be considered. On Wednesday, August 9, Dr. Whitehead will present “Conducting benthic triad assessments in the midst of shifting ecosystem dynamics.” Coauthored with Integral Senior Science Advisor Dreas Nielsen, this presentation will focus on the importance of considering larger-scale environmental changes in benthic community health assessments. These factors are especially important when assessing coastal and estuarine urban areas where negative ecological changes such as eutrophication (i.e., excessive nutrients in water body), oxygen deficiency, ocean acidification, and changes in salinity due to shift in river/precipitation input have been previously documented.

Biological impairment was determined by calculating the weight of evidence for impairment relative to reference data based on likelihood ratios (LR) for alternative conditions. The resulting benthic triad assessment becomes a quantitative process that is transparent, reproducible, and interpretable.

Dr. Whitehead will present a case study from Puget Sound in Washington State on the use of statistical likelihood analysis, which provides an objective, quantitative, and easily interpretable determination of the likelihood of benthic community impairment from several independent lines of evidence. In addition, she will show the formulation of an environmentally responsive reference area that takes into account specific environmental factors influencing the benthic community such as depth, sediment grain size, and total organic carbon.

Dr. Whitehead is an environmental scientist specializing in marine systems, biogeochemical processes, and quantitative analysis of environmental data. She has performed benthic community and marine assessments, assessed biological impacts of environmental and chemical factors, examined groundwater intrusion impacts on coastal water quality, and conducted analyses for contaminant source tracing. Dr. Whitehead is experienced in a wide variety of computational analysis and data visualization techniques for the integration of diverse data types and environmental metadata.

For more information about this research and Integral’s related capabilities, contact Dr. Whitehead at

View details on the 2017 ESA Meeting here.

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