Field Trip 3 Reaction Paper: Smithsonian Environmental Research

Field Trip 3 Reaction Paper: Smithsonian Environmental Research Center On Saturday October 13, 2012 a few of my Science and Global Change classmates and I visited the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center (SERC) in Edgewater, Maryland. The purpose of this field trip was to learn more about our local Chesapeake Bay ecosystem, and to make connections between the research being conducted at this particular location and it’s implications relating to greater global climate change. The mission of SERC is to “lead the Nation in research on linkages of land and water ecosystems in the coastal zone and provide society with knowledge to meet critical environmental challenges in the 21st century.” In other words, to study the local coastal (Chesapeake bay) ecosystem and use the knowledge acquired from this research to educate others on how to adapt to today’s environmental problems. During our visit, we experienced environments ranging from the Muddy River that flows into the Chesapeake Bay to the forests surrounding these waters. Members of SERC conduct a variety of different types of research in these areas. One case of research being conducted here relates to species invasion, specifically dealing with the tall invasive plants known as phragmites. Scientists at the research center have been marking how much area these plants have taken over in the Chesapeake Bay’s nearby marshes. The poles that have placed in the ground at each interval of time obviously show how much this invasive plant has spread, destroying the native grasses that were once there. This overtaking has been detrimental to this marsh habitat, for the animals that were once able to call it their home are no longer able to inhabit an area with such dense, tall plants. The implication this research has on broader issues is important for cases of harmful invasive species around the world. If the researchers at SERC find a way to remove this plant and restore the marsh back to it’s original condition, their methods can be passed along and used in other areas to get rid of related invasive species. This would restore habitats and better ecosystems on a global level, which would overall benefit general environmental health. Another case of research being done at SERC involves forest ecology and succession. Scientists have been documenting tree diameters to determine growth rates, as well as overall differences between old and new areas of the nearby forest. Recent destructive weather has provided an excellent case of primary succession that they will be able to document and witness as it develops and changes, eventually becoming an old forest. This research contributes to our knowledge of similar forests in the regional area, as well as the general understanding of how forests mature. Without this kind of research we would not be aware of how forests are affected by natural disasters and the steps taken within them to recover from such occurrences. This are exactly the kinds of things we observed while comparing the newly destructed part of the forest with the older growth forest on the island across the march that we walked to, away from where destruction took place. The Smithsonian Environmental Research Center reaches out to the community at large by hosting student field trips. Groups ranging from college students, such as our scholars group, to elementary school children visit this research center to learn about what goes on there and what researchers have discovered. Reaching out to educate younger age groups about what goes on at SERC is effective because those are exactly the types of people that should know about research for the benefit of the environment. Visiting SERC may open the eyes of younger visitors to a new world of environmental research, leading them to develop an interest in this type of study. Especially with the increasing concern of global warming and other major climate changes it is becoming increasingly important for more people to better understand the topic of environmental studies, and there is no better group to spread this knowledge than today’s youth.