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September 8, 2014

Plum Island Estuary: Studying how marshes respond to sea-level rise


Long Term Ecological Research (LTER) site provides important clues for protecting & managing estuaries

At the Plum Island Sound estuary in northeastern Massachusetts, the marsh floods like clockwork. At high tide, you can pass over the mudflats into the grass in a boat. At low tide, the ocean waters recede, leaving behind fresh deposits of nutrient-rich food for the birds and other wildlife, including juvenile game fish such as striped bass.

It's an ecosystem that is at once both hardy and fragile. The estuary is part of the Plum Island Ecosystems LTER; LTER stands for “Long Term Ecological Research.” The LTER Network was created by the National Science Foundation (NSF) in 1980 to conduct research on ecological issues that can last decades and span huge geographical areas.

The Plum Island Ecosystems LTER was established in 1998 and, like other LTER sites, this one is focused on the long view. The research is expected to continue for a generation or more.

Biogeochemist Anne Giblin, of the Marine Biological Laboratory, is leading a team of researchers who are studying the Plum Island salt marshes to determine how this 2,000-year-old ecosystem is holding up under climate change, land use changes and sea-level rise.

“The Plum Island Estuary LTER has given us some valuable insights about how marsh systems will respond to future climate and environmental changes,” says David Garrison, a program director in the NSF Directorate for Geosciences. “These findings would have not been possible without the funding commitment to collect long-term observations.”

The Plum Island Estuary LTER is co-funded by the NSF directorates for Geosciences and Biological Sciences.

The research in this episode was supported by NSF award #1238212, LTER-Plum Island Ecosystems (PIE): Interactions Between External Drivers, Humans and Ecosystems in Shaping Ecological Process in a Mosaic of Coastal Landscapes and Estuarine Seascapes.

Miles O'Brien, Science Nation Correspondent
Ann Kellan, Science Nation Producer


Any opinions, findings, conclusions or recommendations presented in this material are only those of the presenter grantee/researcher, author, or agency employee; and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.