The Chesapeake Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve in Virginia (CBNERRVA; www.vims.edu/cbnerr) is engaged in understanding the vulnerability of critical emergent wetland habitats and submerged aquatic vegetation (SAV) within the York River estuary to anthropogenic and climate related stressors. These habitat types are stressed by a number of factors, including elevated summer temperatures, nutrients and suspended sediments in the case of SAV, and elevated sea level rise rates and salt intrusion in the case of meso-polyhaline emergent wetlands.
The Reserve is also focused on critical “ecotones” (e.g., water-marsh edge and marsh-maritime forest interface) and the implications for either the loss or gain of ecosystem services in these transitional environments. Through implementation of a NERRS-approved Sentinel Site monitoring program combined with historical shoreline and wetland/SAV change analysis based on aerial imagery, CBNERRVA is attempting to understand the physical conditions driving changes in wetland/SAV habitat type and develop strategies to increase adaptive capacity of these vulnerable critical habitats.
In this project, there will be opportunities to contribute to the installation of and measurements from observational infrastructure which includes emergent marsh and underwater SAV transects to monitor changes in spatial distribution and community composition of vegetated habitats; Surface Elevation Tables (SETs) co-located with vegetation transects to monitor surface elevation changes over time; groundwater monitoring to evaluate salt intrusion and water table and flooding dynamics; multiple NERRS System-Wide Monitoring Program (SWMP) water quality stations, multiple local meteorological stations, and local geodetic control networks tied to the National Spatial Reference System (NSRS) and monitoring infrastructure so measurements are collected on the same vertical datum.
There will also be opportunities to assist with a project evaluating and enhancing local SAV resiliency and restoration potential in a changing climate. This work will involve sampling of SAV habitats for genetic and reproductive information. There will be opportunities to contribute to Reserve efforts to develop baseline habitat maps using ArcGIS and better understand tidal marsh forecasted response to accelerating sea level rise and changes in sediment supply through running a Marsh Equilibrium Model (MEM). There are also potential opportunities to work with the CBNERR Education and Outreach Program through its Discovery Labs, an evening program that provides family-friendly learning through expert presentations and hands-on laboratory activities and exhibits; and the summer camp programs for students in grades 1-8 focused on Bay habitats, natural resource sustainability and stewardship.
The work will take place on the VIMS campus with visits to all four components of our Reserve which are located along the York River and include: (1) Goodwin Islands which is approximately 22 km down the York River from VIMS in the region of highest salinity, (2) Catlett Islands located approximately 7 km upriver from VIMS, (3) Taskinas Creek which is approximately 24 km upriver from VIMS within the boundaries of York River State, and (4) Sweet Hall Marsh, which is located 65 km upriver from VIMS in the tidal freshwater-oligohaline transitional zone of the Pamunkey River, one of two major tributaries of the York River.