Student created image

Students contribute to Climate Change Research

Disappearing Marshes Research Challenge, Cape Cod, MA

At the core of the Junior Researcher program is the Changing Beaches Research Challenge that provides middle and high school (grades 8–12) students an opportunity to engage deeply with scientists Dr. Amanda Spivak and Ms. Sheron Luk and contribute in a meaningful way to their research program.

Disappearing Marshes Research Challenge is led by Dr. Amanda Spivak, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution and UGA. This challenge aims to define the contribution of ponds to salt marsh biogeochemical budget and to enhance predictive geomorphic models of ecosystem evolution. Junior Researcher students will collect data on the dimensions and salinity of ponds within current research sites at the Barnstable Great Marshes. Student-collected data will create the first distribution of pond properties and be used to ground-truth from aerial images and LiDAR. These data will inform biogeochemical budgets and geomorphic models.


Student-centered teaching

Year 1 Cohort

We're looking forward to working with these trailblazing teachers who will join us in our mission:
Cheryl Milliken, Falmouth High School
David Grolli - Barnestable High School
Beth Guiffrida - Wareham High School
Brent Ruter - Wareham High School
Luke Simpson - Nauset High School
Abby Wood - Cape Cod Academy
Elevate Engagement


Scoutlier is used for collection of a comprehensive, high quality data set in the field. Junior Researchers Cape Cod assignments are available on the Shared library tab of My Assignments.

Share and Collaborate

Scientific Progress!

So far this spring, we have collected a total of 225 measurements on 72 ponds with the contributions of 24 students, 4 educators, and 3 schools - CCA, Barnstable High School, and Falmouth High School. Muddy count: 6 students !

Challenge Motivation

Salt marshes are disappearing from coastlines across the globe. In many regions, disturbances that cause soil waterlogging, such as rising sea levels and certain land management practices, catalyze the conversion of marsh habitat into unvegetated mudflats or open water environments. As part of this transition, the shallow ponds that dot the landscape expand at the expense of productive marsh grasses. This process occurs over decades and likely affects the ecosystem functions that underlie valuable services. Incorporating ponds into landscape-scale biogeochemical assessments may therefore be important for refining our current understanding of marsh ecosystem functioning and predicting changes under future scenarios.


Disappearing Marshes Research Challenge will contribute to an active research project that seeks to refine current models of marsh evolution and the role of salt marshes in local-to- global carbon budgets by including the contribution of ponds. A key hurdle is to obtain a representative sample size of individual pond measurements. Aerial images and LiDAR are used to identify ponds, but their spatial resolution is often too coarse to differentiate between different habitat features (ponds, mudflats, shallow open water, etc.). Nor do these approaches provide pond depth or chemistry data. Consequently, these basic measurements must be manually collected in the field.


Junior Researchers Role

Junior Researcher students will play a critical role in this project by collecting data on approximately 100 ponds in the active research sites and ground- truthing publicly-available aerial images and LiDAR data. Students will also assist in tagging data elements they collect, such as pond dimensions and surrounding vegetation type in the aerial images used to inform our models.

Data will be used to ground-truth our GIS assessments of pond spatial extent and combined with marsh soil carbon data to estimate the amount of carbon ‘missing’ due to pond presence. These verified spatial data and carbon budgets will allow us to develop geomorphic models for both marsh systems. The student’s efforts will help to refine current marsh ecosystem carbon budgets and contribute to development of models predicting marsh evolution.

Research Scientists

Dr. Amanda Spivak.

Associate Scientists, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution / University of Georgia
Amanda Spivak focusses on how human disturbances affect carbon cycling in nearshore environments, including wetland and seagrass habitats. Eutrophication, landscape development, fishing and other disturbances interactively determine the transformations and fate of “blue” carbon. Quantifying the effects of single and multiple disturbances on ecosystem functioning will help refine coastal carbon dynamics and budgets.
For more about Amanda visit UGA Dept. of Marine Sciences.
This research is funded by NOAA's NERRS Science Collaborative and Woods Hole Sea Grant.


Sheron Luk.

Doctoral Candidate, MIT / Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution Joint Program in Oceanography and Applied Engineering
Sheron is interested in seeking interdisciplinary solutions to the adverse impacts a changing climate will have on coastal ecosystems and communities. Her focus on coastal biogeochemistry stems from the fact that coastal ecosystems - a direct interface between the ocean and human populations - provide a wealth of ecosystem services to our communities.


Dr. Claire Pontbriand.

CTO and Director of Programs
Claire is a geophysicist interested in education, science communication, and research on dynamic earth systems. She loves to help students make a connection with nature through a muddy day of field work.


Ms. Luk and Dr. Pontbriand

This project is funded by a grant from the Office of Naval Research

ONR Grant funded