Our REU interns are back at their respective colleges after a busy summer of independent research here at LUMCON. During their internship, they presented a project proposal, designed a scientific study and progressed through the “try-tweak-redo-repeat” process that is the scientific method! Each intern presented his or her research at a student symposium on August 11th, in Cocodrie.
Katie Ebinger is a rising junior at the University of Colorado – Boulder majoring in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology. She is an active member of her residence hall council and volunteers with EcoReps to bring more sustainable practices to residence halls on the CU campus. While working at a nature preserve near her home town of Palo Alto, CA, Katie discovered that restoration ecology would allow her to marry her desire to protect the planet with her love of being outdoors. Ecological restoration is defined as an “intentional activity that initiates or accelerates the recovery of an ecosystem with respects to its health, integrity and sustainability” (The Society of Ecological Restoration) and may include actions such as the removal of non-native species and weeds, reintroduction of native species, erosion control, and reforestation. In an effort to fully explore this field, Katie got a job in a lab on campus that studies how some plants have particular traits that make them effective tools for restoration.
Katie found the REU program through an ecology listserv called ECOLOG and applied to our program because of our unique location. “I chose LUMCON because I like how here, at the edge of the marsh, land mixes with the sea and the interconnectedness of all organisms is so evident,” she explained. Katie’s project involved Gulf ribbed mussels and their role in shoreline restoration. The thought is that mussels act as a stabilizing agent along marsh edges and are able to deposit key nutrients into the soil to promote plant growth and increase microbial abundance. Under the mentorship of CWC co-PI Dr. Brian Roberts and his post-doc Dr. Ariella Chelsky, Katie hoped to gain perspective on what it means to be a research scientist and build confidence when conducting field and lab work. “Ultimately, I hope to conduct research in habitat restoration and continue the work of current scientists to make restoration more effective and feasible”.
When asked about her favorite aspect of being in Cocodrie, Katie said: “I love the scale of the landscape here. When it’s so open like this, it reminds me of the vastness of our planet.”
Look for more profiles here and on CWC and LUMCON social media!
Since 2011, LUMCON has been host to groups of undergraduate students taking part in the Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) Program. As its name implies, the REU Program is designed to get students interested in careers in science out of the classroom and into the field doing research. Participating students spend ten weeks between June and August conducting independent research with the guidance of a scientific mentor or mentor team. Throughout the program, a student will identify a research question, develop and orally present a research proposal, conduct their proposed research, and gain valuable experience communicating their findings in both a formal presentation and a written manuscript. Students will interact with their peers and the larger scientific community through career and skills-based workshops and by participating in seminars, summer programming, and local events at their research institution. This nationwide program is funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF), other federal and state grants, as well as local institutional budgets.
Here at LUMCON, research areas vary year to year but have included Gulf Oil Spill impacts, deep sea biology and ecology, coastal geology, microbial ecology, physiological ecology, coastal hypoxia, behavioral ecology, biogeochemistry, plant ecology, fisheries and aquaculture, ecosystem ecology, coral reef biology, and wetland science. Summer is one of our most active seasons so REU students have the opportunity to network with our resident faculty and interact with other undergraduates participating in summer courses. REU participants are integrated into the LUMCON community and encouraged to take part in all of our summer activities.
Speaking of summer, this is going to be an exciting one here at LUMCON as we are launching The White Boot School! Alongside summer courses and camps, we will be hosting additional events to bring the community together and encourage students to stay in Cocodrie on the weekends. We will be hosting a free concert featuring the Babineaux Sisters Band on June 10th, as well as other possible events including a building wide volleyball tournament, a comedian, and yoga classes. Be on the lookout for social media posts for these events!
For more information about the REU program, check out the REU Internships page on the LUMCON website. This page contains details about the provided stipend and available mentors, as well as Frequently Asked Questions and links to past projects.
The following is a summary of “Islands in the oil: Quantifying salt marsh shoreline erosion after the Deepwater Horizon oiling” written by R. Eugene Turner, Giovanna McClenachan and Andrew W. Tweel, published in the Marine Pollution Bulletin in September 2016 (Volume 110, Issue 1, 15 September 2016, Pages 316–323)
The 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster was the worst oil spill event in U.S. history. Approximately 4.9 million barrels of Macondo oil were released into the Gulf of Mexico just 66km from the Louisiana coast. As clean up and restoration efforts began, it became clear that there was a severe lack of baseline data for the ecosystems and wildlife in the region. There has been a concerted effort over the past six years to monitor and record the short and long-term impacts of the spill in order to understand the extent to which oil affects an environment. Conveniently (from the scientific viewpoint), the marshes and islands of Louisiana were inconsistently oiled and provided a “potential natural laboratory” of control and experimental sites. Scientists could observe oiled and unoiled marshes that experienced the same natural tides, weather conditions, and human impacts over the same period of time. This type of experimental conditions are rare outside of a controlled laboratory situation.
Drs. Eugene Turner, Giovanna McClenachan and Andrew Tweel used this opportunity to monitor shoreline erosion – a key issue for Louisiana salt marshes. They had three primary questions: 1) How much faster did oiled shorelines retreat?, 2) How long do the effects of oiling last?, and 3) Is there recovery?. Using Google Earth satellite and aerial imagery and classifications from a multi-agency damage assessment organization (SCAT – Shoreline Cleanup Assessment Technique), 46 islands in Barataria and Terrebonne Bays were selected as study sites. Islands classified as heavily, moderately or lightly oiled were used as ‘oiled sites’ while those given the no oil designation were used as ‘unoiled sites’. Imagery stored publically on Google Earth provided images of the selected sites from 1989 to 2012 and enabled the scientists to measure the length and width of each island over time. Using these images, they were able to determine the erosion rate for the 20 years prior to the oil spill and establish a baseline to compare with the erosion rate following the spill.
After analyzing the data, the scientists determined that the rate of erosion at oiled islands for the first 12 months following the spill was 275% of the pre-spill erosion rate. That translates to an erosion rate nearly three times as fast as that seen before the spill and at unoiled sites. However, there was no detectable difference between the rates at oiled and unoiled sites after a year and a half. This suggests that there was some degree of recovery or stabilization over those 18 months. These results are consistent with those from other studies that tracked erosion rates after a shoreline was exposed to oil. Turner, McClenachan and Tweel stated that the resiliency and strength of the marsh sediment comes from the belowground biomass – the root system. Without the stability from the roots, sediment is easily washed away by the tides and regular wave action. This study demonstrated that the increased erosion rate caused by exposure to oil does slow over time but did not provide any evidence of recovery in affected marshes. Additionally, these scientists do not believe there can be a reversal to the damage without management intervention.
This is one of many studies examining Louisiana’s coastline and waterways. They are focused on a number of different issues pertaining to erosion, vegetation, food webs, soil, and microbial communities, but there are a few consistent messages emerging: a loss of habitat stability ripples through to all aspects of the community. Salt marshes and estuaries are vital nursery grounds for marine life that form the bedrock of Louisiana’s economy. The islands serve as resting spots and nesting grounds from local and migratory birds. In fact, 11 of the 30 Brown Pelican nesting sites along the Gulf are in Barataria and Terrebonne Bays. Without the islands and marshes, mainland Louisiana is at a higher risk for hurricane damage and sea level rise. They are essential habitats for the social and economic future of the state.