2015 Environmental Hands-On Research Course
This intensive course will introduce fellows to the experiments that scientists conduct, and the measurements they make, to discover the complex ways that added nitrogen alters a coastal ecosystem. Due to fertilizer production, fossil fuel burning, and planting of legume crops, human beings have altered the earth’s nitrogen cycle to a greater extent and more quickly than their alteration of the earth’s carbon cycle and of carbon dioxide concentration in the atmosphere. On the Massachusetts coast, declines in water quality and oxygen, and loss of eelgrass, shellfish, and fish are local manifestations of this global nitrogen problem.
Fellows will travel to a unique, large-scale ecosystem experiment in the Plum Island salt marshes, north of Boston, where nitrogen has been added to incoming tides to artificially raise the nitrogen in the water and simulate the “eutrophication” of tidal creeks and the marsh. The experiment has been going on since 2004 and many effects of this manipulation of the salt marsh are visible and measurable. This study is part of the larger Plum Island Long Term Ecological Research Project, funded by the National Science Foundation.
Fellows will make field and laboratory measurements that address questions about how added nitrogen affects marshes and estuaries. They will then return to the MBL in Woods Hole and work with scientists to analyze their samples, interpret their data, and present it to their colleagues at a mini-symposium.