Our current research uses a space-for-time approach focused on the relative responses of high-elevation and low-elevation marsh-estuary systems to external and internal feedbacks. These efforts will complement continued long-term monitoring activities that address how the geomorphology of the marsh-estuarine system is responding to sea-level rise, climate change, and human activities in the watershed, and how those changes will influence production, biogeochemical cycling, and foods webs throughout the system. Specific research topics include studies on sediment dynamics, water level and water flux, marsh carbon balance, nutrient dynamics, marsh productivity, microbial diversity and function, food web structure and dynamics, and species changes.
The Plum Island Ecosystems LTER (PIE LTER), located in northeastern Massachusetts, is an integrated research, education and outreach program. Its goal is to develop a predictive understanding of the long-term response of coupled land-marsh-estuary-ocean ecosystems to changes in three key drivers: climate, sea level, and human activities. As rates of change in these drivers have accelerated in the PIE region, there is critical need to understand the mechanisms that underlie these responses, and to provide information necessary for effective and timely management. The PIE LTER research site includes the estuaries and marshes of Plum Island Sound and the watersheds of three rivers, the Ipswich, Rowley, and Parker, that combine to form a drainage basin of 609 km2. The Plum Island Sound estuary is a coastal plain, bar-built estuary whose extensive areas of productive marshes are part of the largest expanse of intertidal marsh in the Northeast. Exchange with the coastal ocean is via the Gulf of Maine, an area of the world ocean that is experiencing rapid rise in water temperatures.
In 1998, the Plum Island Sound Ecosystems (PIE) site became one of the first coastal sites in the National Science Foundation’s (NSF) Long Term Ecological Research (LTER) Network. Before becoming an LTER site, it was part of NSF’s Land Margin Ecosystems Research program (1992-1997). Our research is rooted in studies on the ecology of the Plum Island Estuary that began in the late 1980s, largely with NSF funding.