This semester I’ve had the pleasure of working with Elizabeth de la Reguera and Natalie Ceresnak on different projects under the saltwater intrusion (SWI) research umbrella. Saltwater intrusion is the movement of seawater onto land and into freshwater aquifers. This phenomenon is occurring in many coastal regions, including the Maryland Eastern Shore, and can have detrimental effects on agriculture. Thankfully, researchers like Elizabeth and Natalie (and by assisting them, me) are investigating this pressing problem!
My main work with the Agroecology lab revolved around Elizabeth’s carbon fractionation work, which investigates carbon storage across a spectrum of salt concentrations and soil depths. In soils, carbon binds to other soil constituents, such as minerals and salts, to create stable assemblages within large and small soil aggregates (von Lutzow et al., 2007). Where carbon is stored plays an important role in salt-damaged farm fields because understanding the effect of sea salts on the storage and stability of carbon can help determine if these transitioning tidal wetlands on the Eastern Shore would be more valuable (in terms of carbon sequestration) than growing crops. I’ve been able to assist Elizabeth with this research by entering sample data into a massive spreadsheet, and I’ve also helped organize her 1,500 soil sample envelopes based on a certain site name, soil depth, AND particle size.
My work with Natalie was also related to SWI and its impacts on soil biogeochemistry. Her research investigates how different cropping treatments affect nutrient accumulation and losses on saltwater intruded fields before, during, and after field trials. Seawater cations can compete with and replace nutrient ions (like ammonium) by binding to soil particles, and fields inundated with saltwater can thus lose these nutrients (Steinmuller & Chambers, 2018). Using samples from the same sites as Elizabeth’s, a colorimeter will soon be used to measure nitrate, ammonium, and phosphate to see if this is occurring on the Eastern Shore. Electrical conductivity (as a proxy for salinity) will also be measured to see where in the field and at what depth we find to be saltiest.
When I started working in the Agroecology lab, I had only a general idea about saltwater intrusion, but I now have a better understanding of how serious a problem it is for agriculture. From working with both of these projects, I’ve learned that SWI can affect all aspects of soil chemistry and crop health in ag fields right here on our coasts. My work in the lab has helped hone my organizational skills and has taught me that soils research requires careful and precise work. It’s been a great opportunity to work in the Agroecology lab and to be a part of such important ag research!
- By Taylor Brinks
Steinmuller, H., & Chambers, L. (2018). Can Saltwater Intrusion Accelerate Nutrient Export from Freshwater Wetland Soils? An Experimental Approach. Soil Science Society of America Journal,82(1).
von Lützow, M., Kögel-Knabner, I., Ekschmitt, K., Flessa, H., Guggenberger, G., Matzner, E., & Marschner, B. (2007). SOM fractionation methods: relevance to functional pools and to stabilization mechanisms. Soil Biology and Biochemistry, 39(9), 2183-2207.