Virginia Coast Reserve LTER - Research Topics

Coastal storms, climate change, long-term eustatic sea-level rise and land subsidence cause variations in the elevations of these surfaces that drive ecosystem dynamics. Ecological processes, including organic matter production, species extinction and colonization, alter the rates of erosion and sediment deposition and thereby alter land and water table surface elevations. Short-term episodic events and long-term systematic trends in sea level and land and and groundwater surfaces give rise to variations in nutrient availability, primary productivity, organic matter accumulation and trophic interactions.

Activities in the island and mainland upland have focused on better understanding the relationship between ground-water and land-surface free surfaces, and how this relationship affects ecological processes including productivity, and decomposition. The lagoons within the VCR constitute the ecological bridge between our mainland and island research sites, linking mainland watersheds with the coastal ocean. Activities of primary producers and heterotrophs influence the degree to which lagoons retain or remove watershed nutrients and organic matter during transport from the mainland to the coastal ocean. We are gaining increased understanding of the drivers of water movements within the lagoon (tidally vs wind driven). We are also facing the prospect of a dramatic state change for the entire lagoon over the next several decades. Marshes represent the biomes most susceptible to state changes driven by changes in sea level. For this reason we have focused on understanding the relationship of marsh surfaces to sea level rise and the role that biology may play in the response of marshes to that rise.

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