University of West Florida
Week 4(.5): Pensacola
The first day of our week in Pensacola was all about the management of upland forests and the impact of urbanization and mismanagement on the creeks surrounding Blackwater River and Sweetwater River. We had the pleasure of having head forester, Ian Stone, guide us through the long-leaf pine forest and show us the protected and fire managed areas of the uplands. We compared these healthy creeks to creeks that run into the problem of urbanization and the disruption of the natural flow of the riverine system. The upland forests have been degraded or built upon enough to lower its acreage from 90 million to patches of forest that sum to around 3 million acres today.
On Tuesday, the cohort started the day out at the Scenic Bluffs where we hiked down the side of the bluff to reach a beach to perform water quality and chemistry data to detect groundwater discharge in the area. The class split up into groups to perform these different tasks like gathering the groundwater through coring the sediment and collecting water quality data using a YSI meter. We also got to use a isotopic radar that pumped water through a machine that could detect the isotope of Radon 220, which is an indicator of groundwater seepage in the immediate area. Dr. Schwartz was our lead professor of the day and was a very interesting guy who was extremely knowledgeable in this field and helped us be co-scientists for the day! We then took a tour of the EPA Gulf Research Lab which was awesome and all the scientists there were great in telling us their science journeys. The lab was busy working on exposure tests given to zebrafish, sheepshead minnow and a freshwater frog to see the effects of levels of certain pesticides on the different life stages of each animal. I found their coral research area the most fascinating!
On Wednesday, the class dove into seagrass surveying! We met the coolest lady, Barbara Albrecht, who was the watershed specialist in the area. Barbara knew everything about the Pensacola area and all its bays, rivers and bayous. We assisted in water quality data collecting and light attenuation using a light meter and secchi disc, and also surveyed random transects of seagrass to assess coverage (surface area and basal). It was a bit challenging to gather the basal coverage of the quadrats because we were so used to only looking at surface coverage, but it was fun none the less. After we cored in the seagrass to pull up the rhizomes, we had to count and measure each blade of seagrass coming off of each shoot, Halodule and Thalassia very tedious and I do not envy the graduate student who has this project!
Thursday was the hardest day of the whole week it consisted of almost 8 straight hours in the sun with little to no protection and it was a hot, sunny Florida day! Dr. Schultz led a lecture on coastal geomorphology and taught us how to use such equipment as an inclinometer, ranging poles and an engineer's level. My three person group was the lucky one that got to actually put the inclinometer to the test and measured the slope of the dunes in meter incriments which took about an hour and a half in the blazing hot sun. The engineer's level is quicker and allows for less human error so our data was not even used, which was disappointing at the time due to our valiant effort put forth into the job. We also surveyed the vegetation coverage for the different species that inhabited the barrier island back dunes of the beach. The data collected will be used to map out the beach dynamics and topography, and will be compared to past and future data from the same transects.
We were so very tired from the sun exposure and overall level of activity from the week that we weren't sure how Friday was going to turn out. Luckily we had a nice day planned out for us! We arrived at Topsail Hill Preserve State Park where we quickly headed off on a 2 mile hike on the beach to mark a sea turtle nest, which was super exciting to me and many other students. We were able to see the tracks of the Green sea turtle and learned that all the different sea turtles have distinct patterns of tracks they leave in the sand so the park rangers, in turn, know what kind of nest they are looking to mark to promote its safety. The main point of the visit to this area of the panhandle, Destin, was to view the dune lake ecosystem unique to this part of Florida. Sediment is deposited over time to form dunes and when it rained or groundwater seeped from below, freshwater lakes would form in the back of the dune area. When there is storm activity the dunes can be blown and create outfalls that connect these lakes o the Gulf of Mexico, which we observed. The area was very beautiful and super neat to observe and learn about!
Thanks for all the advice and I hope to keep in touch :)
Final week at UNF coming up!