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Staff

USGS Student Trainee Studies Effects of Wave Energy on a Salt Marsh Boundary



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Since 2015, Ann Marie Luppino, a senior from the Environmental Science and Technology program at Upper Cape Cod Regional Technical School, has been working for the USGS Coastal and Marine Geology Program in Woods Hole, Massachusetts (Mass.). She is a student trainee member of the sediment transport department and is supervised by electronics engineer Marinna Martini. Ann Marie is part of a cooperative-learning program with her school that allows her to replace every other week of classroom work with an internship from the outside community, to gain hands-on experience toward a possible career. 

Maps showing the location of site 1 and site 2 for the two-month time span of fieldwork for the project
Above: Maps showing the location of site 1 and site 2 for the two-month time span of fieldwork for the project. [larger version]

During Ann Marie’s time with the USGS, her tasks have included equipment maintenance, instrument programing, and fieldwork. During the summer of 2015, Ann Marie assisted in different field projects, including helping with tunicate and salt marsh vegetation studies, demonstration deployments of an autonomous mapping vehicle (jet-yak), and collecting salt marsh sediment cores. She assisted with unmanned aerial system surveys that began in December 2015 at Town Neck Beach in Sandwich, Mass., to document and quantify erosion. Each fieldwork opportunity has given her insight into how studies are conducted from start to finish.

Ann Marie developed a senior project combining the skills she learned through high school and her experience working at USGS; the title is “The Effects of Waves in Relation to Salt Marsh Erosion.” Globally, salt marshes are being lost to sediment erosion, changes in land use, higher sea levels, nutrient input, and other factors. Their vulnerability is related to sediment availability because marshes accrete vertically, in part due to deposition of suspended sediment on the marsh surface. Ann Marie’s hypothesis states that if waves flow toward a salt marsh at a high velocity, the salt marsh will erode at a greater rate, removing sediment from the marsh system and increasing vulnerability. This prediction is based on the understanding that when high-energy waves come into contact with sediment, the repeated force of the waves weakens the stability of the marsh, resulting in erosion and lack of deposition.

Ann Marie Luppino recording GPS coordinates for her senior research project Ann Marie Luppino measuring the amount of erosion at site 1 by measuring the exposed portion of the rod
Above: Ann Marie Luppino recording GPS coordinates for her senior research project. [larger version]

  Above: Ann Marie Luppino measuring the amount of erosion at site 1 by measuring the exposed portion of the rod. [larger version]

Ann Marie was assisted in her efforts by scientists at USGS. Neil Ganju, an oceanographer with the USGS, helped design the project. Ann Marie and Neil brainstormed possible project ideas, identified a field site in Wareham, Mass., and developed a problem statement and hypothesis around salt marsh erosion. Steve Suttles, a civil engineer that works in the sediment transport department for the USGS, also assisted Ann Marie for the duration of the project. Steve helped download and analyze data when needed, and taught Ann Marie how to use an RBR D-Wave instrument (a low frequency data logger designed for unattended measurement of waves). When installing instrumentation in the marsh, Ann Marie was assisted by Sandy Brosnahan, a geochemistry technician with the USGS.

Ann Marie Luppino measuring amount of erosion rate at site 2 by measuring the exposed portion of the rod RBR D-Wave instrument mounted to weights and ready to be deployed to measure wave height
Above: Ann Marie Luppino measuring amount of erosion rate at site 2 by measuring the exposed portion of the rod. [larger version]

  Above: RBR D-Wave instrument mounted to weights and ready to be deployed to measure wave height. [larger version]

The project was designed to measure the salt marsh erosion from the effects of wave activity along the coast. RBR D-Wave instruments were placed in the water at two locations offshore of the salt marsh in Parkwood Beach, Wareham, Mass., to measure wave heights. Each instrument was weighted and attached to a rope that led to a chain as a support anchor. A PVC pole marked the location on shore. At each location, six metal rods were pounded into the salt marsh face horizontally. They were evenly spaced and inserted into the marsh with 88 centimeters (cm) of the rod buried and 18 cm left exposed. Erosion was measured every two weeks over a two-month period by measuring the exposed portion of the rods. The instrumentation was in the marsh from November 12, 2015 to January 12, 2016. 

Chart comparing wave heights at the two sites over the two-month sampling period.
Above: Chart comparing wave heights at the two sites over the two-month sampling period. [larger version]

Mean wave height and average erosion for November 2015 to January 2016 
  Site 1 Site 2
Mean Wave Height  0.002 meters 0.01 meters
Average Erosion 9.16 centimeters 10. 3 centimeters
Above: Table showing the study results from the two-month sampling period.

The data collected supports the hypothesis; at site 1, there was less wave activity and a low average erosion rate; at site 2, where there was more wave activity, there was a greater average erosion rate. This project can now be repeated to retest the hypothesis and evaluate results in other locations. Ann Marie will continue to work with the USGS until August 2016 when she goes to college.

Related Sound Waves Stories
USGS Woods Hole Center Contributes to Unique Summer Intern Program
Oct. / Nov. 2010
Students Learn the Practice of Science, and Scientists Further their Research—Internship Programs at the USGS Center in St. Petersburg, Florida
June / July 2009
USGS Participates in Another Year of the Woods Hole Partnership Education Program (PEP)
October / November 2015

Related Websites
U.S. Geological Survey Pathways Internship Program
USGS
Learn More About the National Association of Geoscience Teachers / USGS Internship Program
USGS

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in this issue:

Research
Scientists Bring Wave Action into the Picture

New Map Reuses Decades-Old USGS Data

Website Provides Oceanographic Time-Series Data

New Data Added to USGS Time-Series Data Collection

Fieldwork
Coastal Maps from Unmanned Aerial Systems

Future Fieldwork, August–September 2016

Outreach
USF Oceanography Camp for Girls

Staff
Student Trainee Gains Work Experience at USGS

Publications
Geological Perspective on Conservation of Atlantic Coral Reefs

Polar Bear Outlook Favorable Under Certain Scenarios

June / July Publications

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