When I first told my mom what I would be doing for work this summer, she seemed just as excited as I was. After telling her I would be spending some of my days in the field collecting soil samples, she quickly went on Amazon and insisted that she should order me a bucket hat with bug netting. While I had other thoughts at the time, I have never been more grateful for such a goofy looking (yet practical) hat.
So far, my bucket hat has come along with me to more than 20 different farm fields in Somerset County, MD, protecting me from the sun and bugs while I collected my samples. Somerset County is very low elevation (2 ft above sea level in many cases), and with climate change and sea level rise, saltwater water is encroaching on crop fields all along the county’s shores (known as saltwater intrusion). When saltwater reaches farmland, typical crops, like corn and soybean, which are not tolerant to salt, are unable to grow. As saltwater creeps further inland, it can cause a decrease in the productivity of nearby fields, eventually forcing some farmers to abandon fields altogether.
At each farm, I collected a soil sample in order to test the electrical conductivity of the soil. The soil’s electrical conductivity correlates to how salt level in the soil. With this measurement, we can understand the magnitude of which saltwater intrusion could be impacting crop productivity in each field that I visited, and infer how it is affecting other crop fields in the surrounding areas.
On the days I am not wearing my bucket hat, I am instead at UMD's McKeldin Library’s Geographic Information System (GIS) and Spatial Data Center sitting in my bucket seat (which my mom also got for me) working on visual display of the data I collected out in the field, as well as a remote sensing project that identifies areas of saltwater intrusion and other land cover changes from satellite imagery. This aspect of my work has been exciting for me because it puts the data into a visual and colorful map display that makes the long list of numbers easier to understand. I hope that the final product of my geospatial data work helps others understand how imminent and important issues like sea level rise and climate change are, and how they can impact our food systems and livelihoods at any moment!
- By Liz Nguyen