With a scouting trip complete, we were ready to establish our sites and get to work. A team consisting of PI Elizabeth Herndon, newly hired postdoc Matthew Berens, and technicians Geoff Schwaner and Michael Jones traveled to Morgan City LA for five days to establish our sites and collect samples. Big shout out to Dauterive Boat Rental and our collaborator Andre Rovai at LSU for getting us safely to the site and providing key logistical support.
In five days our team:
1. Built platforms at two different sites (old delta and young delta)
2. Hooked up a suite of different environmental sensors (water level, conductivity, pH, redox)
3. Collected surface and pore water from 4-5 depths at 10 different plots
4. Tested out some methods to collect colloids (success TBD)
5. Waved to some alligators
6. Looked out for one another's well being
7. Ate some delicious local cuisine
After much planning, a team consisting of project PI Beth, postdoc Chunlei, and technician Geoff traveled to coastal Louisiana with bright eyes and bushy tails to see some potential sites. We were amazed by the beautiful landscapes of the coastal marshes, and saw the long-term damage wrought by recent hurricanes. Cold weather had come to the south, which was good (the reptiles were all hibernating) and not so good (the boat rides were very brisk!).
Our objective was to evaluate the feasibility of establishing sites along a degrading delta in Terrebonne Bay and a growing delta in the Atchafalaya Basin. These sites would represent areas of the coast that were becoming submerged and experiencing increased salinity, and those that were actively growing and becoming freshwater systems. We also managed to snag some water samples from each location to test our methods and get a sense of the chemistry at each site.
In all, we were able to visit three sites in three days. We fell in love with Wax Lake Delta, due both to its beauty and scientific promise (and maybe also because the sun came out that day). WLD is a highly studied and super interesting site because it's formed over the past few decades due to water diversion away from the Mississippi River and into Atchafalaya Basin. It also serves as a indicator of what might be to come as Louisiana implements a strategy to regrow its coast through similar water diversions. WLD also has these great hydrologic gradients due to tidal variation that are evident in the plant populations.
Like any newly funded project, we needed a catchy name.
First, did an ECRP funded through the DOE BER ESS program and housed within ESD at ORNL really need an acronym? (Clearly yes). Second, how could we smush together the keywords of the project into an acronym? Phosphorus, redox, coast, biogeochemistry, iron, manganese... Third, could it ever top PhIr in the Arctic? (Probably not).
After some careful consideration, project technician/amateur herpetologist Geoff suggested CoBRA for "Coastal Biogeochemistry of Redox Active species". Ironically but thankfully, cobras are one of the few dangerous creatures not native to the area. Finally, we could move forward!
*note, this was written well after this actual discussion, so dates are approximate.
Our objective is to develop new understanding of P biogeochemistry in coastal systems in order to improve representation of coastal biogeochemistry in Earth system models. We focus on the Louisiana Gulf Coast where water management has contributed to extensive coastal degradation.
This work is supported by the DOE Early Career Research Program through the Environmental System Science program in Biological and Environmental Research.