By Vincent Irizarry, Radha Patel, and Taylor Howard
These loblolly pine trees reside on higher elevation marsh lands. As you navigate to lower lying areas, you can see where increased salinity has killed trees. (V.I)
Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge:
- BNWR is a natural salt marsh area in Maryland that serves as a protective barrier for coastal communities and farmland throughout the region.
- Storms and sea level rise associated with climate change has flooded communities and salt marshes in the eastern shore of Maryland near BNWR.
- Marsh lands are migrating inland due to sea level rise and saltwater intrusion into the uplands is rapidly occurring. Lower elevation areas are most vulnerable.
- The salinity of the marshes is impacting forests and farmlands. In the forests, this results in “ghost forests” with dead tree stumps, while in the farmlands, it results in killed crops.
Disturbed farmland. The brown area was sprayed to kill invasive Phragmites australis that enters areas where crops have been killed due to salinity. (V.I)
On the second day of our trip to the eastern shore, we toured local farm communities to observe the ecological damage. Within the last ten years alone 1,500 acres of farmland have been lost. Water running off of farms is high in nitrate and phosphorus due to fertilizer use. Nutrient rich water entering the Chesapeake Bay causes eutrophication, or poor water quality. In addition, in areas of high nutrients and disturbed soils, the invasive plant Phragmites australis grows. Phragmites is a weed that reduces salt marsh plant biodiversity and can be very difficult to get rid of. (V.I)
“But it’s just some grass, who cares?”
“We have plenty of other farms.”
As Phragmites continue to ravage the land, it takes up space that could be used for commodity crops that we all love such as corn, wheat, and soy. These lands are important not only to the local farm economy but to our national food security. Farmers within the area have entire livelihoods dependent on these lands. Many farmers are unwilling to give up these lands to government sponsored ecological succession programs.
Farms such as this one above produce high quantities of crops such as soy and corn. This farm has been exposed to salt water through flooding, as evidenced by the lack of crop growth near the edges of the plot. The likelihood of producing a quality yield is unknown.(V.I)
What would be produced on the farm.
During a part of another project, we collected water, grass, and soil samples for analysis. The water samples were tested by a small, portable analytical chemistry device to determine levels of Nitrate in the water near the farms. The FDA approves drinking water up to 10 units of Nitrate, yet many of these samples were in the 20s and 30s. Another intern in the lab is working on analyzing the soil and grass samples.