Back from a hiatus!

It’s been a while since we have posted an update but we are back with a short summary of what we have been up to during our break!

We have been continuing with field work in all conditions, from freezing cold to scorching hot!

And the lab work that follows (stay tuned for “A Day in the Life of People Land Water: Part 2 – Lab work” coming soon!)

We have installed a lot of new best management practices.

And put out these signs to mark our test farms… have you seen any around Caroline county?

We’ve also done a few outreach events.

And did we mention we were on TV??

group shot cropped

Our interview with Sean Streicher of WBOC’s DelmarvaLife

This year at our annual watershed meeting we had farmers from all three of our test watersheds together.  We had a great turn out and interesting discussions about best management practices.  We also snapped a rare photo of almost all of our group members in the same room!

PLW group photo

The illusive team picture: Tom, Anne, Jon, Kalla, James, Michelle, and Rebecca

We will be back with more news from People Land Water soon!

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A Day in the Life of People Land Water: Part 1 Baseflow Sampling

It has been so cold and wet recently that we haven’t been able to do our regular field work. After being stuck in the office for a few weeks, we are really missing the outdoors. While reminiscing, we thought we’d share a few pictures to give you some insight on what it is we really do when we go out in the field. Here is Part 1 of our blog series “A Day in the Life of People Land Water.”

Sampling site at a stream running through a forested watershed/basin.

Sampling site at a stream running through a forested watershed/basin.

Every month, we conduct baseflow sampling, where we take water samples from all of our sites (streams, ditches, and tile drains) usually after a 3 day period of no rain, so the streams are only being fed by groundwater.

Anne taking a sample on a colorful Autumn day.

Anne taking a sample on a colorful Autumn day.

Sometimes acrobatics are necessary to reach the water.  Here, Jimmy demonstrates his agility to help us sample a ditch on his land.

Sometimes acrobatics are necessary to reach the water. Here, Jimmy demonstrates his agility to help us sample a ditch on his land.

Tile drains can be challenging because they often go dry in the summertime.

Tile drains can be challenging because they often go dry in the summertime.

Whenever possible, we go to the edge of the water and take grab samples which go directly into our sampling bottles. We also record how high the water in the stream is on the staff gauge. Besides seasonal variations, the stream height during baseflow can also be affect by obstructions up- or downstream, such as beaver dams.

Beavers can really affect stream flow and discharge by building dams and causing stream impoundment.  This is some evidence of beaver activity we found near the banks of one of our sites.

Beavers can really affect stream flow and discharge by building dams and causing stream impoundment. This is some evidence of beaver activity we found near the banks of one of our sites.

Some sites are harder to access, so we have to use more creative methods.  For streams that are crossed by roads, we use a bucket tied to a rope and lower it into the water off the side of the bridge.

Anne using the bucket to grab samples.  There was a lot of leaf litter floating on the stream that day!

Anne using the bucket to grab samples. There was a lot of leaf litter floating on the stream that day!

Sometimes, we just need to extend our reach a little bit, which led us to the invention of our one of a kind bucket-on-a-stick! Homemade out of all recycled materials, this low cost handy tool has helped us in all types of prickly and deep water situations.

The bucket-on-a-stick was useful to help Michelle avoid all those invasive vines and stickers.

The bucket-on-a-stick was useful to help Michelle avoid all those invasive vines and stickers.

Once we have the samples, there are a few parameters we have to measure right away, so we set up a mini mobile lab on the back of our truck!

Michelle taking field measurements on the tailgate of our truck on a perfect day for field work-both sunny and warm!

Michelle taking field measurements on the tailgate of our truck on a perfect day for field work-both sunny and warm!

Temperature, conductivity (salinity), and pH of the water are measured using field meters. We also prepare a portion of the samples for nitrogen and phosphorus analysis by filtering them into small vials.

If we need to stay on schedule, we might even filter en route to the next site!

It can get pretty crowded in the truck, but the cup holders are perfect for holding sample bottles!  Rebecca is skillfully multi-tasking on a busy day.

It can get pretty crowded in the truck, but the cup holders are perfect for holding sample bottles! Rebecca is skillfully multi-tasking on a busy day.

The rest of the water samples are kept cool in coolers filled with ice, so that we can continue processing back at our real lab! Tune in soon for Part 2 of “Day in the Life of People Land Water” to see what we do back at Horn Point Laboratory.

New Team Member

People Land Water is happy to welcome Michelle Lepori-Bui to our team. Michelle is our new laboratory and field technician, and she will be working on water quality monitoring. Before coming to Cambridge, Michelle worked for the Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control and spent a year as an environmental educator in California. Michelle received her environmental science degree from the University of Delaware in 2012. We are excited to have Michelle join our team!

Michelle doing science

Dark and Stormy

The sky is darkening with bubbling cumulonimbus clouds, the tempo of the wind chimes is increasing, and we are getting excited for the looming storm. Ok, perhaps this scene is more common where I grew up in the Midwest where summer storms can produce devastating hail, water, and winds; however, it doesn’t take an epic thunderstorm to decrease water quality. Storm events can have a significant impact on streams in the Choptank Basin, and that is why People Land Water has incorporated storm sampling into the study of how management practices affect water quality.

Precipitation is essential to sustain crops and human development, and fortunately for us, Maryland receives adequate rainfall throughout the year (~45 inches); enough rainfall to meet all of society’s demands. This is more rain than Seattle, Washington! The downside is that storms move pollutants, such as nitrogen, phosphorus, and sediment, from our streets, lawns, and fields and into streams.

Phosphorus and sediment are flushed downstream almost exclusively during storms. During normal conditions, it may be difficult to detect phosphorus and sediment, but storms cause streams to swell into rivers and ditches into streams picking up anything in their path. Hurricane Sandy alone transported 46% of the all the phosphorus that exited a Choptank watershed over a one year period; 46% of the annual phosphorus load in just a few days!

It is important to measure what’s floating downstream during storms as well as manage our land in a way that prevents loss of soil and nutrients to waterways during rain events. Nutrients and soil are best kept on land where they can sustain our crops and trees.

photo

John Gardner setting up an ISCO, which is a automatic sampler used for sampling streams during storm events.

My Life as a Graduate Student

It’s after Labor Day, and at the University of Maryland, that still means that school is just starting again. Luckily, I can take my remaining graduate class here at Horn Point Lab. I’ve been here a while, but I still have some time to put in on my PhD thesis. My role on the People Land Water project is a little different from everyone else’s since I am a full time student as well as a member of the research team. Many people do not realize what life is like for a grad student. This is probably because at times we can be elusive creatures, locking ourselves away in labs or offices while we claim to be too busy for anything else. Here is a list of a few of the roles that I have:

  • Student. Yup, I still take classes. At 26 years old, I feel like I am in the 21st grade of school. Oh, maybe that is because I am.
  • Researcher. I am required to do my own research project and then write a book about it. Ok, so I’m supposed to write a dissertation, but that is really just a fancy word for a book that my family will think is really boring.
  • Teaching Assistant. About 1 semester a year, I work as a teaching assistant here at the Horn Point Lab. For this position, I help with grading papers and answering student questions outside of class. I also shop for food and organize field gear for the field trips that one of the graduate classes takes. This is the only time that I actually get to go on a ‘research cruise’ aboard our Research Vessel, the Rachel Carson.
  • Research Assistant. My research role for People Land Water is to help out with water quality sampling, specifically in regards to groundwater sampling for gases. I will also be part of analyzing samples in the lab.
  • Lab Mate. I am really fortunate to work in a great lab group. This means that I always have people around to answer my questions and help me with field work (and vice versa).
  • Tour Guide. Did you know that we offer tours of the Horn Point Lab on Tuesdays and Saturdays in the summer? This role is optional but it is a nice break for me to show people around the lab and explain my research to the general public.  
  • Normal Person. Ok, so this title is subject to interpretation. Grad students often claim that our lives are filled with long hours studying, doing research, and writing. While this is not untrue, we do also get a chance to do other things. For me, I spend my other waking hours spending time with my husband and our dog Chi-Chi, teaching a physical science class at Chesapeake College, building houses with Habitat for Humanity (banging a hammer is really good stress relief), listening to my brother’s reggae band, and many other non-science related activities.

All in all, I am very much the typical busy and complaining graduate student. To be honest, though, I am grateful to be spending 5-6 years working on my PhD at Horn Point. I am surrounded by fun, yet quirky people, and I get to live on the beautiful Eastern Shore.

~Dana Bunnell-Young

Dana collecting soil while installing a groundwater sampling well.

Dana collecting soil while installing a groundwater sampling well.

Me_Chi_Tom

Dana with her dog Chi-Chi and cat Tom.

Research Experiences for Teachers, 2014

Research Experiences for Teachers, 2014

In Spring 2014, two Maryland high school science teachers were selected to participate in the National Science Foundation funded program, Research Experiences for Teachers, aka RET. The goal of RET is to advance teacher understanding of science concepts, to improve science communication skills, and to develop teaching modules for the classroom and field research that build on research experiences. The teachers participated in a larger NSF-funded research project known as People Land Water at the Horn Point Laboratory in the Center for Environmental Science of the University of Maryland (Tom Fisher, lead PI). This study is testing whether densely applied best management practices (BMPs) in three experimental watersheds in the Choptank Basin on the Delmarva Peninsula will show improvements in water quality over a five year period. The teachers were trained by Keota Silaphone, GIS instructor at Salisbury University and PhD student in the MEES Program of the University of Maryland, and the RET program ran from June 20th through August 1st, 2014.

During the 6 week program, the teachers assisted in the recovery of records of implementation of cover crops, stream buffers and more BMPs in the USGS gauged watershed, Greensboro. Each teacher was trained in ArcGIS Desktop 10.1, image interpretation, and ArcGIS Online web map design. This training, combined with each teacher’s understanding of the People Land Water study, was integrated into a newly developed teaching module, Water Quality and GIS (coming soon to www.teachoceanscience.net!). This new teaching module compliments the “From Land to the Sea” module created by Laura Murray, Director of COSEE at the Horn Point Laboratory, and emphasizes the use of interactive maps to understand how land use and BMPs impact water quality in the Choptank Basin, and more specifically the Greensboro Watershed.

Below are links to web map applications developed by Hemalatha Bhaskaran (James M. Bennett High School, Salisbury, MD) and Jane Whitelock (Talbot County High School, Easton, MD).

Choptank Basin Land Use Change

Examples of Best Management Practices in the Choptank Basin

Greensboro Watershed Land Use, 2011

Greensboro Watershed Best Management Practices

Cordova Watershed Land Use Change

Cordova Watershed Best Management Practices and Crop Type Analysis

Kittys Corner Watershed Land Use Change

Kittys Corner Watershed Best Management Practices and Crop Type Analysis

Tour of Cordova and Kittys Corner Watershed Sampling Sites

Image of Greensboro, Kitty’s Corner, and Cordova watersheds in the Choptank Basin. Click on the link below to view the map.

CTRL-click to view map

Image of monitored agricultural watersheds in the Choptank Basin. Click on the link below to view the map.

CTRL-click to view map

Research with People

Research with People

There are three areas of research for the People Land Water project on testing sustainable water quality practices. The three areas are water quality, sociology and economics. I do the sociology research which specifically studies the society and the relationships among individuals within it. For the People Land Water project, I am assessing the social factors which influence the attitudes of the farmers and residents within our watersheds towards water quality as well as the impediments towards additional adoption of Best Management Practices (BMPs) for their farms and residential lands.

To determine these social factors, I conduct personal interviews with the farmers and residents at their homes or farming offices. To guide these interviews a survey is used, and I record the responses as well as any additional comments that they may provide. Two similar surveys were created from the SIDMA electronic database (Social Indicators Data Management and Analysis Tool) http://35.8.121.111/si/Home.aspx. One survey has questions specific to farming BMPs and the other with ones specific to residential BMPs. The surveys are used during the interviews so that the same sets of questions are asked of each farmer and resident.

In theory, it sounds like conducting these interviews wouldn’t be too challenging. However, all the farmers and residents live in northern Caroline County which is approximately an hour’s drive northeast from Cambridge. I have a terrible sense of direction, so I rely heavily upon my GPS to direct me to the correct location. Often the farm locations are down long dirt roads with no trespassing signs and at least one big barking dog to greet me. Did I mention that I’m a cat person and that I easily get lost? I’ve only gone down the wrong dirt driveway a couple of times. Therefore, I’ve learned to call the farmers when I arrive at the beginning of the driveways. This way the farmer greets me in their driveway and runs dog interference for me.

Once I get to the correct location, conducting the surveys has been a blast! I get to personally know each of the farmers and residents who have agreed to work with us on this five year project. Sometimes, my surveys come with tours of various animal operations which have helped me expand my knowledge. One farmer’s wife fixed me the best homemade tomato soup even better than my grandmother’s! So, through all these surveys I am learning my way around Caroline County, and I am connecting to so many farmers and residents that I feel like I am becoming part of their social community.

Kalla Kvalnes
Kalla Kvalnes. People Land Water. watershed. sustainability. UMCES. Horn Point Laboratory. University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science. water quality. NSF-Coastal SEES. BMP