Scientists at the National Science Foundation (NSF)'s newest Long-Term Ecological Research (LTER) site, Plum Island Sound in Massachusetts, hope to discover how productivity in estuaries -- places where rivers meet the sea -- is affected by changes in land cover, climate and sea level.
The Plum Island award, made by NSF's divisions of environmental biology and ocean sciences, is for $3,780,000 over six years. Researchers aim to discover how these factors have impacted three estuaries along the U.S. East Coast: Plum Island; Wells, Maine; and North Inlet, South Carolina.
Plum Island Sound is the most recent addition to a network of 21 LTER sites supported by NSF. Of these 21 sites, 19 are scattered across North America, and two sites are located in Antarctica.
Ecosystems at the land-sea interface, like Plum Island, are among the most productive on earth because of the material they receive from bordering terrestrial and oceanic systems. "But human activities in rivers and watersheds have enormously altered such estuarine ecosystems through inputs of materials such as water, sediments, nutrients, and organic matter," says Scott Collins, director of NSF's LTER program. "An important but neglected link between land and near-shore coastal waters is the input of these materials. Research through the Plum Island site should tell us a lot about how food web dynamics in estuaries have been altered."
An estuary is a mosaic of habitats, including open water, tidal creekbank marshes and marsh ponds, explains scientist Chuck Hopkinson of the Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole, Massachusetts, principal investigator on the Plum Island LTER project. "Getting a large-scale view of an estuary is important. On a small scale, a section of estuary may appear healthy, but a large-scale look may show that it is deteriorating."