My Project with Paul at CSI:

Hello, my name is Jason Reynolds and I’m a sophomore studying environmental science (at UNC)! I’ve had many opportunities to learn new things this semester at the OBX Field Site and my internship was certainly one of them. This semester, I worked with Paul Paris, a research scientist at the Coastal Studies Institute who works in the coastal marine processes and geomorphology lab. While there were some minor bumps along the way, overall, I enjoyed the work I completed with Paul and can say I learned some new things. 

At the start of my internship, I remember being a bit nervous because I wasn’t exactly sure of what I would be working on. I had been informed of a few potential projects I could pursue with Paul but didn’t have a clear choice. After some discussion, we settled on a fun and interesting project in which we used Light Detection and Ranging (Lidar) data and GRASS GIS to analyze changes to marshes on nearby Pea Island. From working on the project, I refined my skills in completing research and gained valuable exposure to geographic information system (GIS) software. I’ll now give a brief rundown of the project. 

Lidar is a sensing method that uses a laser to collect elevation data remotely, such as from an aircraft. While it can be quite accurate in most environments, in densely vegetated marsh ecosystems the laser typically returns higher-than-actual elevation values. We collected lidar datasets and brought them into GRASS GIS to complete some corrections, based on other research I had completed. Once this was complete, we used aerial photography to mask our data and only leave behind what we thought to be marsh. We completed some calculations based on what was left, ultimately creating a map that showed the change in elevation of an area of marsh between 2008 and 2018 (to our best estimate). 

(Above) The infrared band of aerial imagery of our study site from 2008!

(Above) The map created by subtracting elevation values from 2018 and 2008. Red pixels indicate areas where elevation has increased, and accretion has occurred. We attribute the widespread accretion to the inlet that opened in this area as a result of Hurricane Irene in 2011!

While this internship was perhaps less adventurous than others, it provided a great balance to the fieldwork and other demanding activities during the semester. Also, being a relatively short trip (CSI to my residence for the semester), it provided me with some helpful flexibility and left room for independent work. In addition, I know that I am coming away with a number of new skills. I gained experience in following the process of a semi-formal research project, as well as in the creation of a formal report summary. The demand for research required me to improve my abilities in completing a literature review, which will be of high value to me in the future. I also gained some good exposure to GIS software, which is a large part of much work in my field of study. These skills will be of great value to my future studies!

Overall, the internship was definitely a more enjoyable part of my semester. I enjoyed working with Paul, and certainly encourage anyone who has an interest in completing some research of their own to ask about working with one of the excellent staff at CSI. And to any prospective students: in any internship at the OBXFS, make the most of it and use your voice to create a project and experience you will look back on and value. Best!

– Jason

OBXFS ’21 (so far!) and fun at Jockey’s Ridge State Park

As I try to think of some way to introduce this post, I can’t help but realize that I’ve only been at the OBX field site for three weeks; but that isn’t to say it hasn’t been eventful! Already I’ve been on multiple exciting trips to new places, participated in fun activities, and made memories with the great people I’ve met so far. I would like to now walk you through some highlights of my time at OBXFS.

I’d like to start by commenting on the amazing and supportive people I’ve met at the field site. I mention supportive because I will admit there have been some challenging moments so far. But through any personal or professional hurdles, I’ve always felt that I have people who are willing to listen and help me get through it. From my fellow classmates to the directors, professors, and community members, I always feel welcomed and appreciate the strong sense of community that even a new member such as myself can feel at the OBXFS. I look forward to strengthening the bonds I’ve already made throughout the rest of the semester!

Besides a few enjoyable trips to the beaches and other local spots, I’ve been able to explore and learn a great deal about the OBX through visits to historical sites such as lifesaving stations, parks, and communities such as Buxton, home of Buxton Woods. I’ll leave the specifics of those trips to other students who I’m sure have better photos to go along (I’m not always much of a photographer myself), but I will say that the OBX has a rich history and I’ve enjoyed what I’ve gotten to experience and learn so far. Learning history through the stories of locals is unique in itself, and comparing it to other things I’ve heard creates a better picture of the living history of the OBX. One of the living sites we visited that was one of my favorite activities, was Jockey’s Ridge State Park!

Jockey’s Ridge was a short field trip but I enjoyed it so much because it emphasized one of my favorite aspects of being near the coast: the view of the horizon. As an active dune system, sand is continuously being moved and reshaped by the wind. This results in the formation of some large sand dunes that make for great views of the rest of the park and beyond. From the different peaks, I was able to see the maritime forest within the park, the Sound, and the human structures surrounding the park. I personally also enjoy just being able to see such large areas of open space, especially when it is storming outside (thankfully it was a clear day when we visited!). 

Although I don’t have a picture of one of those views, here’s one of a few classmates and myself walking toward the peak of a dune, as well as one of the many picturesque trees (I believe a loblolly pine) in the more forested regions of the park. These regions were just as interesting to venture through, as we could easily see how small elevation changes resulted in dramatic differences in vegetation, one of the key aspects of a maritime forest. It also gave the ranger time to provide some background to the park and share fun stories in her time working there. What I found to be the most interesting bit was about the low-lying areas and how they often hold vernal ponds in periods of higher rainfall. Although we came during a drier time and were unable to see them, it was still fun to learn about the frogs and other organisms that can call these transient ponds home. 

(Above; right to left) Blakely, Anna, and me making our way to the top of the dunes at Jockey’s Ridge! The blue sky itself was one of the many beautiful views from the day.

(Above) A tree that certainly stood out for its simple beauty, if my short experience with taxonomy and plant identification serves me well, we are seeing a Pinus taeda, or loblolly pine tree!

Overall, I enjoyed my time at Jockey’s Ridge, much like I’ve enjoyed my time at the OBXFS. In many ways, the field trip is a good representation of the field site as a whole: some challenging moments, a great deal of time outdoors, learning a lot about the environment around you, and friendly and knowledgeable mentors to lead the way! I truly have had many fun experiences at the OBXFS so far and can’t wait to experience more as the semester goes on. In addition, the capstone project so far has been interesting and looks to provide me with great field skills to complement the program coursework. Although I still have many weeks to go, I’m sure this field site will provide me with great professional skills and development.

But beyond this development and what I’ll leave you with has been personal development. In many ways, this program has pushed me far outside of my comfort zone. I’m far away from home, meeting many new people, putting in some long days, working on new projects in new concentrations, and more. As I mentioned earlier, I have had some personal challenges so far, but I have felt a sense of community from the members of the field site that has pushed me to take things in stride. The best example I have so far is when we all had the amazing opportunity to go surfing. I didn’t think much about it at the moment, but a few years ago I was pretty afraid of the ocean, and just a couple of weeks ago I spent a few hours out surfing in deep water, having a great time, and subconsciously conquering and burying that fear. Moments like this make me glad I chose to come to the field site, I look forward to many more of these and certainly encourage anyone looking for overall growth in themselves to apply for the program!