Swamped in the Swamp

Well not really a swamp, more of a coastal salt marsh, but I digress. If you had told me at the beginning of August that within a month I would be stuck up to my knees in muck, constantly pricked by omnipresent black needle rush, and have spent more time laying out Home Depot tiles then ever before while loving every moment of it, I would say you definitely don’t know me. As it turns out though, early-August-Alex apparently didn’t know me that well either because I’ve been doing just that for the last

semester while having an amazing time. My name is Alexander Smith, I am a Junior Environmental Science major, and my internship is conducting research under the guidance of Dr. Reide Corbett in the costal marsh right outside CSI.

My internship is rather equally divided between spending a lot of time in the field and analyzing the data I collected in the field, but, seeing as images of graphs and excel sheets can only be so exciting for so long, I’m going to focus a tad bit more on my fieldwork. The coastal marsh is really an indescribable environment to find yourself in (I say right before I attempt to describe it). The combination of an ever-present sulfurous smell, hidden canals that could dunk you in water up to your waste, and seemingly vengeful vegetation make the habitat truly unique to be and work in.

My research out in the marsh focuses on accretion and erosion rates and how these rates are affected by variables such as weather patterns, elevation, and distance from shore. Thankfully, a researcher at CSI about a year ago conducted a similar study so I am able to compare my results and use their methods as a starting point. When I do field work, I get to use a myriad of different tools, from something as high-tech as a RTK Trimble unit (which costs more than my rent) to bathroom tiles, to gather my data. The RTK unit is used so that I can get an accurate measure of the location of the shoreline, which I can then compare with previous measurements, as well as the overall elevation of the coastal marsh. The comparison of shoreline data is extremely significant to my research because that comparison can be used to determine the mean erosion and erosion rate along the shore of the coastal marsh.

The bathroom tiles are used so that I can measure sediment accretion at specific sites within the marsh. To do this, I’ve laid approximately three tiles at each site (there are a total of 13 sites within the study area) flush with the ground. This way any organic or inorganic material that would normally fall onto these areas is now on the tile. About every 2 to 3 weeks, I go out into the field and collect all the material that has collected on the tiles using such sophisticated instruments as water and a somewhat knife shaped piece of metal. In the lab I dehydrate and then combust the soil to get measure of the organic and inorganic makeup of the collected samples. From here, I can use time, size of the tile, and soil composition to determine the accretion rates at those specific sites.

This data collection culminates into a huge pool of data that I then get to analyze and visualize. Currently, I am about knee deep in this process, which is turning out to be more frustrating, but also more gratifying, than I imagined it would be. Being able to both collect and analyze data under loose supervision is something that I never thought I’d be doing at this point in my life. I can not thank CSI, Dr. Corbett, and the OBXFS program enough for letting me do this internship. Not only am I doing something fun and interesting, but I am doing something that I hope to do throughout my future.

Published by

Alexander Smith

Exec Dir for the Arts