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'Earthzine' features doctoral student's marsh study

(La Louisiane Fall 2016/Winter 2017 p. 6)


UL Lafayette doctoral fellow Samantha Hauser was near Brigantine, N.J., the day before Hurricane Sandy made landfall there on Oct. 29, 2012. She had been conducting research in a marsh on the coast of the Atlantic Ocean.

Samantha Hauser and Paul LeBerg

"I was about to leave and the marsh was covered with saltwater already," she told La Louisiane. A New Jersey native, Hauser was pursuing a bachelor's degree in ecology and natural resources at Rutgers University at the time. "We were at least an hour or two inland and we were still completely flooded from the saltwater coming into the Raritan River," she said.

"Superstorm Sandy" prompted her to think about the effect of hurricane winds, water and salt on wetlands. Part of her senior thesis compared the damage to New Jersey coastal wetlands to help scientists prioritize remediation. Hauser studied aerial views of wetlands along Sandy's storm surge path - before and after it hit - to determine the damage done by saltwater intrusion.

Her findings were featured in November in the article Salt in the Storm Wounds, on the earthzine website (earthzine is an Earth science website that operates with the support of the IEEE Oceanic Engineering Society). Hauser's study showed that 41 percent of the wetlands she studied sustained severe degradation and most of the degradation was long-term. According to Hauser's research, too much salt residue, or saltwater that remains in a marsh for too long, causes marsh dieback. Excessive salt makes it difficult for trees and plants to absorb water, which they need for photosynthesis. And, it can inhibit metabolic processes in some plants. Wetlands are a barrier that, when healthy, help absorb the force of hurricanes. The loss of trees and vegetation in marshes leads to coastal erosion.

Hauser also developed a way to measure the monetary impact of "Superstorm Sandy" on New Jersey ecosystems. "Of the $9.4 billion value New Jersey freshwater wetlands provide annually, Hauser calculated a possible loss of $4.4 billion due to Hurricane Sandy's storm surge. This value includes wind, flooding and salinity damage," the article on earthzine states.

Hauser told La Louisiane that she put her findings "into monetary terms so that everyone could appreciate the amount of ecosystem services and benefits that we all get from them. I think that's the biggest thing: to appreciate our wetlands."