ARP Fieldwork by Alison Martin

For my applied research project, I’m studying the blue carbon dynamics under different environmental conditions in tidal marshes across the Metro Vancouver region. Tidal marsh ecosystems are considered to be a natural resource of global significance as they are provide numerous ecosystem services. One of these ecosystem services is their ability to sequester and store large amounts of atmospheric carbon, or ‘blue carbon’. Blue carbon is a recently coined term that refers to carbon that has been removed from the atmosphere and stored in the sediments of coastal and marine ecosystems and these marshes can be highly effective carbon sinks when the ecosystem is healthy. However, tidal marshes are under high levels of pressure due to anthropogenic stressors and are declining by about 5% per year worldwide. As the ecosystem is degraded, they shift towards becoming carbon source, as they release more carbon into the atmosphere than removing from it. My project will also be looking at potential restoration techniques that can increase the health of the ecosystem, therefor, increasing its ability to sequester carbon.

For the past couple of months, I have been collecting sediment cores, as well as vegetation and salinity data, from multiple tidal marshes in Metro Vancouver. We will also be collecting greenhouse gas emission data in the next couple of weeks. The marshes I have selected are under different environmental conditions so that I can develop an understanding of how these conditions influence the marsh’s carbon sequestration ability. One of the marshes that I have selected is a man-made marsh in Tsawwassen to develop an understanding of what restoration techniques can be used to increase carbon sequestration in these ecosystems. Once the cores are collected, they are taken to the Parks Canada lab to be analyzed. The cores are sub sectioned and then placed into an oven for three days and then burned in a furnace to determine carbon loss on ignition. Some of the cores have been sent off for radiometric dating to determine the carbon accumulation rate of the marsh.

As a result of covid-19 restrictions, I was not able to conduct my research during this past summer but being able to get away from the computer screen and be in the field has really made the past semester much easier. Research during the fall and winter is a bit more challenging but I have lucked out (for the most part) and have had some beautiful days out on the marsh.

SUMMER FIELDWORK by Alyssa Johnston

My ARP aimed to investigate the response of common rain garden species to different application rates of biochar in an engineered bioretention soil.  Rain gardens are bioretention systems used for stormwater management in urban centres. Bioretention soil (e.g. mixture of compost, topsoil and sand) within rain gardens effectively filters sediments, heavy metals and nutrients from infiltrated stormwater. Rain gardens also contain a variety of plants which assist in additional uptake of nutrients and metals. Minimal maintenance and other inputs are required from these systems resulting in harsh growing conditions for plants (e.g. intermittent drying and wetting). The use of native plants that are more suited to local conditions and organic soil amendments that produce more hospitable conditions are important to utilize in these systems.

Biochar is an organic matter that is heated at high temperature with little to no oxygen. When added to soil it can provides beneficial properties. These include improved soil fertility and plant growth, increased microbial activity and increased water and nutrient holding capacity which is effective in retaining nutrients and contaminants from runoff. With these known benefits that biochar can provide to soil and plants, my research set out to better understand native plant response to biochar in an engineered bioretention soil.

Near the end of June, I set up a randomized potted plant experiment using two native plants, Carex obnupta and Juncus effusus, 3 different biochar ratios (0.5%, 1.5% and 5% weight for weight) and a control (0% biochar), with 5 replicates for each plant-biochar/control combo. I followed municipal bioretention soil specification to engineer the bioretention soil that was used in the biochar-soil mixtures. Once the biochar-soil mixtures were weighed, mixed and put in pots, soil samples were taken and sent to the lab to assess basic soil fertility (N, P, K), pH, organic matter content, C:N ratio, cation exchange capacity, as well as the sand, silt & clay composition.

Each week over the summer, I measured height, percent cover and took observational notes on colour and any noticeable damage to the shoots to identify if the selected biochar rates were suitable to enhance the survival and growth of native plants in an engineered bioretention soil. At the end of September,  I harvested the plants and took soil samples to be analyzed at the lab. At the BCIT lab, I separated, processed and dried the aboveground biomass (shoots) from belowground biomass (roots). After drying I obtained the final biomass weight of both the shoots and roots. The data I have collected will hopefully be able to contribute to increasing the performance of rain gardens as bioretention filters by using biochar to improve physical, chemical and biological capabilities of the growth media and their ability to support a diversity of native plants.


Cetacean Observations in Boundary Pass

For my Applied Research Project (ARP), I am collecting information on cetacean distribution in Boundary Pass, British Columbia. For the summer, I moved to Saturna Island which is part of the Southern Gulf Island chain. The main species that use this area during the summer months are humpback whales (Megaptera novaeangliae) and both Biggs killer whales and Southern Resident killer whales (Orcinus orca). I am interested in looking at how and when they use the Boundary Pass area near Saturna Island and what kind of interactions they have with commercial vessel traffic, recreational boaters and ecotourism vessels. I will also be incorporating underwater acoustic data and time-lapse photography with my observational data to investigate the use of these methods for cetacean detection. A seasonal ‘Interim Sanctuary Zone’ or vessel-no-go zone has also been in effect since June 1st, on the east side of Saturna Island. This area was set up with the aim to further reduce underwater noise and physical disturbance in Southern Resident killer whale habitat. I am also interested in investigating the effectiveness of the Interim Sanctuary Zone by collecting data on both cetacean and vessel use of the area. Observational data collection takes a lot of patience but definitely pays off when a pod of 20+ orcas or a humpback mother and calf pass by.

Join Lucy and Dr. Ruth Joy in the upcoming sharing session on her ARP!




Zoom link:

This summer, Simon Fraser University (SFU) Masters student and researcher Lucy Quayle has been living on Saturna Island, gathering data about humpback whales, orcas and boats in the Interm Sanctuary Zone (ISZ) for the Southern Resident Killer Whales (SRKW). Hear about her project and get a glimpse into her findings.

Ruth Joy is a Statistical Ecologist in the School of Environmental Science at Simon Fraser University (SFU). She’ll tell us about her research into predicting the movements of Southern Resident Killer Whales through statistics.


Fraser River Estuary Research

My name is Jan and my ARP is focused on the bottom of the food chain in the south arm marshes of the Fraser river estuary. invertebrates live in the sediment and are primary consumers, which are important in bringing solar energy, that was harvested by plants, up the food chain to higher trophic. Juvenile salmon use the marshes as places to feed on the invertebrates and hide until they are large enough to go out to the ocean.

In the past 50 years the south arm marshes have seen the arrival of the european cattail which is an invasive plant species known for growing in large monotypic stands. The cattail is highly competitive making it difficult for native plant species to grow in these stands. My ARP is aimed at determining what impacts this invasive cattail is having on the local invertebrate communities.

To determine invertebrate community composition and diversity I took 50 sediment cores 25 from invasive cattail stands and 25 from native vegetation dominated areas. The cores were sifted to remove the sediment and leave only the invertebrates and the organic materials for analysis. The samples are then going to be sent off to a lab to determine what invertebrates are in each core as well as the number of each invertebrate.