The Frozen Marsh: a story about insulation

All of New England is covered in a thick layer of ice and snow at the moment.  And that makes it a perfect time to see what is going on in the marsh!

When we went out to the Squantum Marsh in Qunicy today, this is what we found:


The marsh was covered in an apocolyptic snow-ice mix that was at least a meter thick in some places!

Our undergrad Nelson Nease is starting up a project this winter investigating the effect of snow pack on marsh functioning and grass emergence time.  In other words, what does all this snow and ice mean for the marsh once spring has finally has sprung?? Research in New England forests has shown that a layer of snow insulates the soil from freezing and reduces the frequency of root damaging freeze/thaw events.  We are wondering if something similar happens in the marshes!

Today Nelson led a team of cold marsh ecologists out to get started on a snow removal experiment.  Using shovels, spades, and a pick axe, we slowly made our way thorough a 2 feet layer of snow and ice to reveal the unfrozen mud below.


Today was just the first cut at an experiment that will surely be exciting.  We have some more plots to clear and we will be putting temperature monitors in the plots to see how strong the snow insulation effects are in the marsh.

More to come soon from this winter #marshlife expedition


Changes in Latitude, Changes in Snow Marsh Attitude

The pictures we posted of Squantum Marsh (and more on that soon) were pretty dramatic. But it is not that way everywhere. Down further south, in Nantucket, while snows have raged, the temperatures – both air and sea – are warmer, leading to a different suite of processes that govern the marsh in winter. Our intrepid undergrad, Farah, sent these pictures back where she’s setting up some winter experiments. One of the cool things about looking at marshes in the south and north is that we may begin to get some idea of how marshes in New England may change over time as the whole region begins to warm up. But for now, the marsh in winter at the UMass Boston Nantucket Field Station are equally beautiful in a quite different way.




The Marsh in Winter

Well, now that we’ve had the Snowpocalypse here in Boston, this is Squantum marshes – BEFORE last weekend’s extra 8″.


Nelson assesses snow depth

Nelson assesses snow depth

Nelson could only get down 6cm. Below that was all ice.

Nelson could only get down 6cm. Below that was all ice.

What is going on under all of that snow and ice? What difference does it make to the marsh?