Scott Jackson, extension associate professor in the department of environmental conservation and Charlie Schweik, professor at the School of Public Policy and the department of environmental conservation, have received a grant from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for a project that uses unmanned aerial systems (UAS) to develop methods to assess the ecological integrity of Massachusetts salt marshes.
The new $125,000 grant is an extension of a $362,776 award the team received in 2018 for the project. The additional funding will allow the researchers to continue developing the methodologies and to expand their work to more sites on the eastern Massachusetts coast. The project’s goal is to provide environmental managers information on the ecological health of salt marches, including their vulnerability to flooding and their physical and biological condition.
“Salt marshes serve important ecological functions,” Schweik said. “They act as a buffer for coastal land from stormy seas during dramatic weather events like hurricanes, and they provide nesting and shelter for a variety of bird species, among other ecological services. But they are under threat because of sea-level rise and other factors, and understanding these threats is challenging in part because they are such dynamic environments.
“While satellite imagery can provide useful information,” Schweik continued, “they are limited by the fact that researchers have no control over the time of the day when the images are collected. The use of UAS technology allows our team to collect aerial imagery of salt marshes at critical times in the tide cycle on any given day—and across seasons—in an effort to better understand factors that are contributing to salt marsh die-back. That image dataset, coupled with new image analysis techniques, will provide crucial information to coastal land managers and environmental policy makers in Massachusetts and around the world as they work to preserve these important coastal environments.”
Jackson and Schweik are working on the project in partnership with the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection and the Massachusetts Division of Coastal Zone Management.