With the generous support of the Great Bay Stewards to complement NH Fish & Game funding, the Great Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve (GBNERR) was able to hire Mike Ressler as the 2013 summer research intern. Mike is a 2009 graduate from the University of New Hampshire with his degree in Earth Science: Oceanography. Since then Mike has been working for several different organizations whose focus is in educating and protecting the environment, including Lake Hosting for the NH Lakes Association, working at the Seacoast Science Center in Rye, and Project Oceanology in Connecticut.
Mike worked under the direction of the GBNERR Research Coordinator Paul Stacey, and Professor David Burdick on vegetation, water quality and SET (surface elevation tables) surveys. These surveys are charting changes in saltmarsh structure related to climate change, particularly sea level rise effects. As sea level rises, there are concerns that saltmarsh elevations will not be able to keep pace and the marshes will “drown” as exhibited by changes in vegetation, convert to other habitat such as mud tidal flats, or retreat into higher upland habitats if not blocked by human structures.
Detailed saltmarsh vegetation monitoring to track these potential changes was conducted at dozens of one-square meter plots (see photo) along 6 transects at each of three marshes in the Great Bay estuary – Sandy Point, Bunker Creek, and Great Bay Farms. Water quality was tested from wells at each plot to measure salinity and see if over time salinity increases with sea level intrusion. This information was used in correlation to show the changes in vegetation as the marsh transitions from low to high to upland edge. The SET data gathered measures the yearly accretion levels of sediment in the marsh.
Though the primary focus of this internship was the vegetation and water quality surveys, Mike also was able to help out with various other tasks as needed. He reviewed and revised the NERRS water quality and vegetation protocols for the sea level rise monitoring, and updated the GBNERR research bibliography with current publications. Mike flagged questionable solar radiation data gathered from the Greenland weather station operated as part of the GBNERR System-wide Monitoring Program (SWMP).
While here, Mike has joined the ranks of research volunteers as well. One example was his help with a macroalgae monitoring and mapping project, led by University of New Hampshire graduate student Elisabeth Cianciola. As part of her research, Elisabeth is helping the Piscataqua Region Estuaries Partnership (PREP) with their macroalgae mapping to see if nutrients are affecting algal and seagrass growth and distribution, and perhaps compromising ecosystem health.
This internship supports these important and integral vegetation and water quality studies whose data over time could provide a detailed record of the condition and health of our salt-marshes, and help identify remedial actions to preserve the health of Great Bay. “It was a great opportunity in which I could expand my knowledge of saltmarsh ecosystems, and help promote an awareness of climate change and it’s affects on the Great Bay Estuary,” said Ressler.
In 2009 three Masters' Candidates received $1,000 each. Projects included mapping rare plants in the Great Bay and determining whether eelgrass beds can reduce the negative impact of seawater acidification on mussels, oysters and snails.