Sunday, July 9, 2017

Fitzgerald Lab - The Great Marsh

Hi! I’m Miyu Niwa, a Biochemistry & Molecular Biology major born and raised in Tokyo.

I’ve had the great opportunity of being able to work under Dr. Duncan Fitzgerald the past month, helping investigate marsh erosion in New England and the effects of sea level rise.

The marsh, simply put, is a beautiful place. From afar, you can see the fluffy green colliding with the clear blue sky as the water shimmers at the edge. It almost looks like one of those scenery default desktop pictures you can choose from on the computer. Having lived in Boston and Tokyo, I am accustomed to the bright city lights and energetic atmosphere, so the drastic difference in this new environment highlights the peacefulness of the marsh.

But the salt marsh’s beauty does not stop there – it has multiple benefits that make it extremely valuable. Marshes filter water, provide habitat and breeding grounds for various species, and are highly productive ecosystems. More importantly, marshes act as shoreline protection, shielding the coastal areas from storms and stabilizing the shoreline with their wave dampening effect.

Professor Fitzgerald’s lab investigates the current eroding of the Great Marsh, and how the marshes are responding to climate change and the accelerating rate of sea-level rise. Specifically, he focuses on Plum Island Sound, MA and takes samples from the different rivers there (Ipswich, Rowley, Parker, Essex). For us interns, work happens both in the lab and in the field. Whatever samples collected in the field are processed in the lab, which is usually why it’s right after fieldwork days that we are busiest with work. Some of the things we analyze are the organic and inorganic/biomass content in the marsh samples.

There are different kinds of work out in the field, but this particular week, we went out to four sites to set up sediment pads along 100 meters from the water. Every 5 meters there will be sediment pads set on the ground next to the flags. Every other flag will have holes dug out for cups to be placed right underneath the surface to collect the water that runs through. When we collect them after the spring tide comes, we will run the water through a filtration process to determine the amount of organics left, as well as the total sediment content. Eventually, we will have enough data to plot a graph and map out which areas tend to have more or less sediment in the water.


The great part about working with this project is how I can experience first-hand the full process of research: collecting samples in the field, analyzing them in the lab, and then creating models to visually show the data. I get to take part in every step of the research process and see how each part affects the overall results. I never thought I would have this experience of going out into the field and collecting samples, and it has now brought in a whole new dimension to my understanding of the different kinds of research. I am excited for the rest of my internship as I learn more about the work Professor Fitzgerald does in trying to protect the Great Marsh.

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