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Achieving Wetland: Metrics and Methods

Principal Investigator/Project Leader: 
Department of Project: 
Geosciences Dept.
Project Description: 

Reliable, sustainable sources of clean water are increasingly hard to come by. But did you know that there are a lot of additional benefits from cultivating and protecting freshwater wetlands at the source of some of these waters? Wetland ecosystem services include, but are not limited to, providing verdant habitat and food supply for a large diversity of plant, animal and insect species, water filtration, slowing and spreading of floodwaters, limiting erosion, storage of carbon and other nutrients, temperature buffering, pollinator habitat and forage lands, and water storage. One of the most basic, defining metrics of a wetland is, as the name implies, its wetness. The relative water content in the soil can be assessed in a variety of ways, and this quantity alone is important for reasons beyond wetland function. Specifically, for a wetland to become established and remain functional independently, sufficient water must be present throughout the year to favor wetland plants and animals, which thrive in wet environments but are unlikely to outcompete invasives or other species in drier regimes. We forsee a continued interest in wetland restoration in Massachusetts and predict that measurable metrics to assess the success of such restoration efforts are desired. Two recent developments support this: first, Massachusetts DER created a new Cranberry Bog Program in 2018 to facilitate exactly these types of restorations, and second, Living Observatory (LO) has begun a learning collaborative of scientists, artists, and wetland restoration practitioners to document the science and best practices of freshwater wetland restoration projects. Building on recent projects and successes, we propose to identify and establish a comprehensive catalog of metrics for measuring the success of freshwater wetlands that have been restored. We will continue our observations of soil moisture and subsurface thermal regimes, and add additional observations of weather and climate variables, phenological change, subsurface water levels, water chemistry, and microclimates and topographic influences of microtopography and other restoration practices. We will use established methods, and add emerging techniques including COSMOS (detects naturally produced cosmic rays that are altered by the presence of water) for measuring soil moisture. In addition, we will survey the site from the air with sensors mounted on small, unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV's) to assess temperature (to sense water and it's source), microtopography, and the changing biomass on the surface. Because restoration projects tend to have extremely short duration or nonexistent monitoring, practitioners rarely know if the sites actually return to a wetland state or how long it might take them to get there. Herein lies our opportunity to deploy this project at a test bed location ideally suited for this work: two former peatland sites that were cranberry farms since the 1890's have been recently (2017), and will begin (end of 2019) restoration to freshwater wetland, will be preserved and managed in perpetuity by the Town of Plymouth, MA (Foothills Preserve, 60+ acres), and MassAudubon (Tidmarsh Wildlife Sanctuary, 250+ acres).

Environmental Conservation topics: