A Winter Marsh

There are places in this world where humans are not naturally supposed to go; space, the ocean floor, inside the earth, and, in my opinion, salt marshes in the middle of winter.

The big field season for any ecological study is the summer months. Not only are there fewer classes for studies being done through universities, but the weather is lovely. The spring and fall are workable, but very few people do field work in the winter. Consequently, there is a lack of information about what happens in the winter. To attempt to fill that gap, my studies is a seasonal study. I am supposed to go out during every season to measure nutrients, respiration rates, decomposition rates, and other factors related to marsh health. It is a great thought and sometimes you have to be tough to get good data, but sometimes, even with the best intentions and determination nature can have the last word.

Alia and I tried to go out into the field last Thursday and I have to say that overall, it was definitely not a success at least. We were barely able to collect any samples, ultimately didn’t visit all the sites, and have to go back, but we did get incredible pictures:

Here is the description I sent my professor (The numbers reference pictures that can be found below): At the first site, Barn Island, there are usually a lot of pools. These pools were frozen, but the top 4 cm or so was actually slush if not just water (1,4). We walked through it going to our site. The whole top of the marsh was very flat and frozen over with wet snow on top (5), but near the creeks there were a lot of huge, frozen, broken ice slabs (3,9). The only open water part was near the restricted area (2). When we got to the area near my sites, we found all of them thanks flags I had put, but there was almost a foot of wet snow or ice, probably at least 6 inches of ice to get down to the ground and we had to really hack at it to reach it (6,8). The ground itself had plant matter on it, which seemed to be held in place by the ice if it was far enough from the creek, and was very wet. I don’t think it was frozen at this site as we were able to push in a ring to one of them (8,15), though it required occasionally slashing the ground when you broke through the ice and really pulling up a lot of grass and dirt. We also couldn’t maneuver around much if you hit a shell.

At Jarvis Creek, I think the tide comes on top of the marsh more because the ice on the top of the marsh might have been a little thinner, but it was completely frozen. There was no snow and we were just walking over ice. There were also a lot more huge slabs of ice up on the top of the marsh (10,11,13). It was still hard to hack through the ice sheet though and once we did dig a hole, it immediately filled in with water (14). I tried to scoop out the ice, but it came in too quickly. I could see it coming in in dirty plumes from the side of the hole. It made it impossible to really search around in the hole, so we couldn’t find the litter bags. The ground itself also seemed to actually be frozen. There was actually grass poking up through the ice in places (16) and a few small holes in the ice to the ground, but it was entirely frozen there and I couldn’t get a ring in. One interesting, though very sad, part of this site was that we saw a bird across the creek who was dying (12). We tried to get it out, but it died before we were able to get it (17). At Barn Island we met a lady who particularly commented that there were a lot of dead birds at the site and wondered if we were studying them.

The field work was really very intense. It was hard to hack through the ice and I was pretty frozen by the end of it. While it was frustrating, I was almost happy to turn around. Alia was really a trooper though!! Thanks so much Alia!! Here’s some pictures and a video of what it took to hack through the ice:

I also have to say that Alia was very brave when it came to the duck. She went over and was able to get it out of the creek and put it back up onto the reeds:

Overall, it was not something I would attempt again without a different goal, but it was a good experience. Though I should also mention that by the next day I was sick and had re-injured my knee, which has been bad for years :/ Hopefully we’ll have better luck a little later in the season!

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