marsh migration

Marsh migration research paved way for new NOAA fellow

Mary Schoell
Mary Schoell spent two years researching this stand of cedar trees at Hammonasset as part of her master’s degree program at Yale. Judy Benson / Connecticut Sea Grant

Most visitors to Hammonasset Beach State Park in Madison, Conn., probably drive by the small stand of cedar trees along the main road without noticing the stark differences.

One group presents healthy deep green funnels pointing skyward. Adjacent is another group partially bare of needles. A few feet away is a clump of standing dead wood, spiny gray branches fully exposed.

The contrasting conditions in this short wooded stretch may be easy for beachgoers to overlook, but Mary Schoell has given it countless hours of attention over the past two years. She’s examined nearly every angle of the health and environment of the same stand of trees, using techniques of dendrochronology to measure growth from tree cores, then assessing impacts of water stress, soil types and elevation. With this data she pieces together a story of how encroaching salt water from sea level rise is affecting tree growth. What she learned there helped pave the way for the next phase in her career, as a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association digital coast fellow.

“I’ve been trying to understand the pace and the drivers that convert coastal forest into wetlands,” said Schoell, 27, who grew up in East Haddam and earned her undergraduate degree from UConn and her master’s from the Yale School of the Environment this spring. Between the degrees, she worked for three years for the Environmental Protection Agency’s Atlantic Coastal Science Division in Rhode Island as a contractor on a living shoreline project.

Nominated by Connecticut Sea Grant for the digital coast fellowship, Schoell is one of nine candidates nationwide chosen in 2020 for the two-year program.

“The NOAA Digital Coast Fellowship is relatively new and Mary is the first candidate from a Connecticut institution to receive one,” said Syma Ebbin, research coordinator for Connecticut Sea Grant. “We’re excited to see what she can do with this opportunity and how it contributes to her professional development as a coastal scientist.”

Schoell will begin her assignment in August, working out of the National Estuarine Research Reserve (NERR) on Prudence Island in Narragansett Bay in Rhode Island. There she will work on projects that tap her wetlands expertise to refine and compare different modeling approaches used existing to predict how and where salt marshes will migrate inland as sea level continues to rise. One well recognized model is called SLAMM (Sea Level Affecting Marshes Model). By bringing together modelers from throughout the country, she hopes to assess the potential for a standardized, national mapping tool.

Read more: https://seagrant.uconn.edu/2020/06/17/marsh-migration-research-paved-way-for-new-noaa-fellow/

Article by Judy Benson / Connecticut Sea Grant

SLAMM (Sea Level Rise Model) Map Viewer & Webinar

sea level rise map viewerSea Level Affecting Marsh Migration (SLAMM) is a mathematical model developed by NOAA that uses digital elevation data and other information to simulate potential impacts of long-term sea level rise on wetlands and shorelines. CT DEEP recently completed a project to run the SLAMM model for the Connecticut coastline, to better understand how Connecticut’s 21 largest coastal marshes and coastal area roads may respond to sea level rise (SLR).
  
The model results have been turned into a new viewer on CT ECO, and there will be a webinar on October 16 to review the results (see below). 

 

Webinar
Sea Level Rise Affecting Road Flooding & Marsh Migration along the Connecticut Coast 
Wednesday, October 16, 2:00 to 3:00 pm
Get an overview of SLAMM and its results, and a live demo of how to use the Viewer on CT ECO.
Presenters
   –  David Kozak, CT DEEP
   –  Emily Wilson, UConn CLEAR 

A Marsh Migration Buffer Takes Shape

Dodge Paddock Beal Preserve is a small oasis in Stonington Borough and is owned by Avalonia Land Conservancy. With tidal wetlands, coastal grassland and a rocky intertidal area, the area has much to offer visitors. The preserve has been the focus of many efforts involving the land trust, CT Dept of Energy and Environmental Protection, Mystic Aquarium and Connecticut Sea Grant. Superstorm Sandy (2012) had significant impacts to the site with both physical (seawall damage) and ecological impacts. Work by Avalonia, Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection and Mystic Aquarium have focused on restoration and management of the tidal wetland with extensive regrading, Phragmites australiscontrol work and planting of native marsh vegetation. Other significant site work includes grassland management to control invasive plants in upland areas.

Landward of the tidal wetland, numerous questions have arisen with the upland habitats. The Beal Family maintained several beautiful, large gardens as a condition of their land donation. Mrs. Beal recently passed away, so Avalonia needed to determine how to manage a large area of the property bordering the wetlands. Given the proximity of the formal gardens to the marsh, projections of sea level rise of approximately 20 inches by 2050, and observations indicating that the marsh is migrating landward in parts of the Preserve, the creation of a marsh migration buffer seems to be the most prudent approach. With a grant from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation Long Island Sound Futures Fund, we are moving forward with the creation of such a buffer.

Land Trust Steward, Beth Sullivan, led the clearing of the formal gardens by having local garden clubs, neighbors and friends come in and remove plants which included everything from fennel to canna lilies. More volunteers pulled roots and cleared as much as possible. Then we covered the gardens with black plastic, letting it “solarize” over the summer months. After much planning and determining what plants would work best, we planted the new buffer on Oct 19th. A hardy crew of volunteers rolled up the plastic, raked and leveled the gardens and then sowed seeds with a mix of native coastal grass species. We were also fortunate to obtain seeds for several native species that had been collected several years ago by the New England Wildflower Society as part of their Seeds of Successprogram. Seeds of native species that were collected locally include switch grass and little bluestem as well as herbaceous perennials such as tall goldenrod. Other donations included milkweed seeds and root balls of joe pye weed from local gardens.

people walking with plastic uncovering ground
Removal of the plastic sheeting that was used to solarize the area over the summer months. Photo by J. Benson Oct 19, 2018

spreading mulch over dirt and seed
Seeded area is covered with a thin layer of straw for the winter months. Photo by J. Benson Oct 19, 2018

 

So now we can wait out the winter months and hope for a fruitful spring. While marsh migration with sea level rise is very slow, we are hoping to develop a coastal grassland/meadow that will be an ecologically productive habitat.

By Juliana Barrett