Funding for scientific research can come from all sorts of seemingly unlikely sources. Recently, a ten-year ecological research and monitoring program funded by the US Department of Defense (DoD) came to a close. I was lucky enough to attend the final symposium where researchers from across the East Coast presented their findings. When I first heard about this project last year I didn’t quite understand why the DoD was interested in the ecological health of their facilities. Weren’t these the places where bombs, tanks, and other weapons of war were tested? It seemed like anywhere that had areas specifically designated as impact zones for high explosive munitions wouldn’t have ecological restoration as a top priority.
In fact, according to the project website, all DoD facilities must practice ecosystem-based management. This led to the creation of DCERP, the Defense Coastal/Estuarine Research Program, which was carried out at the Camp Lejeune marine corps base in Jacksonville, NC.
The goals of this project, broadly, were to understand the natural and anthropogenic threats to the estuarine ecosystem Camp Lejeune encompasses, and create management strategies to support ecological function and future use as a training facility.
Ok, “broad” is putting it lightly. This was a huge project that involved data collection in areas as ecologically (and disciplinarily) diverse as upland long leaf pine wood pecker habitats to benthic estuary sediments. While there was a wide diversity of habitats investigated, a few themes emerged over the course of the two-day symposium. It turns out that base activities such as amphibious beach landing exercises and demolition training are not the biggest environmental threats in the area. That dubious honor goes to the far more insidious duo of sea level rise and climate change. Seeing PIs focused on botany, geology, biology, chemistry, and ecology present on the many ways the warming climate and encroaching sea will negatively affect this ecosystem through the lens of their particular discipline was both fascinating and alarming.
Dr. Hans Paerl discusses phytoplankton dynamics in the New River Estuary, which runs through Camp Lejeune. Warmer temperatures projected from climate change scenarios favor HAB forming cyanobacteria.
PhD student Adam Gold discusses his findings that, despite longstanding assumptions, storm water ponds do not remove significant amounts biologically active nitrogen carried in from runoff.
Dr. Tony Rodriguez shows images of overwash on Onslow beach during his presentation on changing barrier morphology. With sea level rise, overwash events will become more common, depositing sand on marsh vegetation and putting human structures located on beaches at risk.
Dr. Jesse McNinch discusses projected changes to the Onslow beach shoreline. The northern part of the beach may grow due to accretion, while all other parts of the beach are projected to erode. By 2040 the beach may be within 100 meters of the Intercostal Waterway.
Dr. Iris Anderson presenting on the New River Estuary carbon budget. While some estuaries have found to be large sources of CO2 to the atmosphere, this does not appear to be true for the New.
Dr. Nathan McTigue looked at carbon accumulation rates (CAR) in marsh areas. While marshes are a sink for carbon, the erosion of marshes associated with sea level rise (SLR) may mobilize carbon due to decomposition.
Dr. Norm Christensen discusses forest structure in Camp Lejeune (MCBCL). Longleaf pine savannah is optimum habitat for the red-cockaded woodpecker. Fire suppression in the area has favored loblolly pine with a thick shrub understory.
DCERP provided a great opportunity to collect long term ecological data, which is often a challenge due to limited funding and the timing of ecological processes. To learn more about the project or look more closely at the data collected check out the project website https://dcerp.rti.org/#/