Quality Assurance Program Plan

Quality Policy

The Alabama Center for Estuarine Studies (ACES) was established to assess the effects of human activities on coastal ecosystems. Included in these efforts are studies spanning a wide range of disciplines, including social, natural, chemical and physical sciences. The Alabama Center for Estuarine Studies strives to insure that data of known and acceptable quality are archived in a timely fashion. Each lead investigator is responsible for submitting a project-specific quality assurance plan to the ACES Quality Coordinator before final approval of funding. The quality assurance principles outlined in this document may be used to prepare a quality assurance plan that addresses the data quality objectives for measurement of physical, chemical and biological variables in both field and laboratory studies. Each lead investigator must implement the prescribed procedures to ensure that precision, accuracy, completeness, comparability and representativeness of the data are known and documented.

Quality Procedures

The goal of this center is an understanding of how human-induced modifications, singly and in concert, produce changes in the structure and function of coastal ecosystems. The inherent variability of estuarine ecosystems is the single greatest deterrent to understanding causality; therefore, success will depend on rigid adherence to the following basic quality principles.

A. All measurements will include quantitative determinations of accuracy and precision.

Comparisons of response variables between treatments require thorough knowledge of the accuracy and precision of the analytical methodologies. Precision will be determined through analysis of true replicates. Accuracy will be monitored by frequent instrument calibrations, use of blank and spiked samples and analysis of standard reference materials.

B. Methods will be documented to insure data comparability and confidence.

Sampling and analytical methodologies to the extent possible will be consistent with referenced procedures. Because numerous subdisciplines are included in the ACES program, the referenced procedures will be in accordance with those established for that subdiscipline. In the area of socioeconomic projects, newly developed methodologies may require additional description of procedures to assure compliance with the QA policy.

Any deviation from established procedure will be documented in the final report. Proposals should include detailed procedures to define methods for collecting and analyzing samples.

C. Metadata, including quality assurance information, will be linked to all data in the ACES database upon submittal, ensuring that modeling and interpretation efforts will explicitly incorporate uncertainty.

Metadata describe the content, quality, condition and other characteristics of data. Creating metadata is crucial in the data development process and can only be written by scientists or analysts who are most familiar with the data. Investigators will document data products with metadata content that is explicit and descriptive, documenting the sources and procedures used. Metadata elements include, but are not limited to:

- Data set information
- Investigator information
- Objectives and Introduction
- Data acquisition and processing methods
- Data manipulations
- Data description
- Specific geographic and spatial information
- Quality control/quality assurance

Required reports, data products, metadata, etc. should be transferred in one or more of the following formats in addition to any hardcopy requirements.

Acceptable Formats Acceptable Media for Transfer
Microsoft Access
Microsoft Excel 
Microsoft PowerPoint
Microsoft Word
ArcView GIS
3.5 inch floppy
Iomega 100MB Zip


Metadata are required for all data products. Data and metadata delivery should coincide, each data set having a corresponding metadata file at the time of transfer.

D. Each funded project will have on file an approved Quality Assurance Project Plan.

These plans will detail (1) the specific objectives of the study, including the hypotheses to be tested, (2) the specific data quality objectives for each variable to be measured, (3) the specific sampling and analytical protocols required to meet the data quality objectives, and (4) the person responsible for quality assurance for the study. Topics which may also be included in the Quality Assurance Project Plans are:

- Instructions for proper sample preservation and storage
- Chain of custody documentation
- Source of standard reagents
- Source or preparation of quality control samples
- Frequency of analysis of QC samples
- Analysis of QC samples
- Review of results
- Corrective action when unsatisfactory results are obtained in the analysis of QA/QC samples
- Calibration and maintenance of equipment

Additional topics will likely be developed for socioeconomic projects, including procedures for developing surveys, interviews, and stakeholder input. 

The plan must clearly identify the responsibility of each party, each function to be performed and by whom, and corrective actions that may need to be taken, when to be taken and by whom. Data quality objectives are required for all funded proposals. They serve as a guide to minimum data quality and are specific, integrated statements and goals developed for each data or information activity to ensure that the data are the desired quantity and quality. Data quality objectives should specify the desired sensitivity of sampling methods, timing and location of sampling, and numbers of samples to be collected. We strongly recommend power analysis to determine the appropriate number of sample replicates required to detect a specified difference in treatments. All out-of-control situations and deviations from the approved quality assurance plan will be reported to the Quality Assurance Coordinator.


The responsibilities of the current ACES administrators are outlined below. This quality assurance plan will be updated periodically to reflect changes in personnel throughout the duration of the center.

Dr. Robert L. Shipp, Director, Alabama Center for Estuarine Studies, LSCB 25, University of South Alabama, Mobile, AL 36688-0002, 251-460-7136, rshipp@jaguar1.usouthal.edu

As Director, Dr. Shipp has the ultimate responsibility for ensuring the quality of the data generated by the Center.

Dr. Kenneth L. Heck, Jr. , Assistant Director, Alabama Center for Estuarine Studies, Dauphin Island Sea Lab, 101 Bienville Boulevard, Dauphin Island, AL 36528, 251-861-7533, kheck@disl.org

As Assistant Director, Dr. Heck will focus on the scientific goals and directives of ACES and, together with the Director, associated faculty and staff, will be responsible for developing and articulating the annual scientific plan.

Mr. Michael R. Dardeau, Quality Assurance Coordinator, Alabama Center for Estuarine Studies, Dauphin Island Sea Lab, 101 Bienville Boulevard, Dauphin Island, AL 36528, 251-861-7527, mdardeau@disl.org

As QA Coordinator, Mr. Dardeau is responsible for overseeing the ACES quality assurance program, for reviewing and certifying compliance of each ACES-sponsored study, for addressing out-of-control situations, and for regularly reporting quality issues to the Director.

Ms. Randy L. Schlude, Data Base Administrator, Alabama Center for Estuarine Studies, Dauphin Island Sea Lab, 101 Bienville Boulevard, Dauphin Island, AL 36528, 251-861-7523, rschlude@disl.org

Ms. Schlude is responsible for working with investigators to document quality-assured data and maintaining the ACES database and Web site.

Each participant in ACES shares responsibility for achieving the quality objectives.  Portions of each project's budget are implicitly allocated to quality assurance. Lead investigators are responsible for preparing a Quality Assurance Project Plan, implementing the quality assessment procedures which it outlines, maintaining QA records during their studies and for including QA information in their final reports. The QA Coordinator will be available to advise investigators on the development and implementation of project-specific QA plans.

Review and Evaluation of Quality Systems

Project-specific QA plans will be compared to proposals and evaluated by the QA Coordinator and a written report on each will be given to the Assistant Director. QA audits will be developed and scheduled by the QA Coordinator and the Assistant Director based on the project-specific QA plans submitted by each investigator. Out-of-control situations will be noted, discussed with the lead investigator and corrected. Final reports will include QA documentation to be reviewed and evaluated by the QA Coordinator in written report to the Assistant Director. All sampling and analytical quality assurance issues are reviewed by the QA Coordinator and, if necessary, discussed by the Director and Assistant Director at their regular meetings. The ACES Quality Assurance Program Plan will be updated annually in conjunction with the ACES Annual Report.


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