New Research Shows Blackwater Wildlife Refuge May be Open Water in 85 years.

Blackwater NWR from Chopper 16.

Blackwater NWR from Chopper 16.

WBOC-TV 16, Delmarvas News Leader, FOX 21 –


Note: This is the script for the story by WBOC Meteorologist Dan Satterfield on Blackwater NWR. It aired at 6 PM Monday, May 22.

BLACKWATER
NATIONAL WILDLIFE REFUGE IS ONE OF THE JEWELS OF THE DELMARVA LANDSCAPE, BUT  SOME SURPRISING NEW RESEARCH THAT IS CAUSING CONCERN FOR LOVERS OF THIS BEAUTIFUL MARSHLAND.

ON ANY GIVEN DAY, BLACKWATER WILDLIFE REFUGE IS HOME TO HUNDREDS OF BIRD SPECIES AND MANY ENDANGERED OR THREATENED PLANTS, BUT VISITORS MAY NOT KNOW HOW RAPIDLY THIS MARSH IS CHANGING. BIOLOGISTS HAVE BEEN TRACKING THOSE CHANGES, BUT A NEW STUDY HAS REVEALED SOME SURPRISING INFORMATION. 

DR NEIL GANJU IS A MARSH EXPERT AT THE WOODS HOLE OCEANOGRAPHIC INSTITUTE IN MASSACHUSETTS AND HE’S DEVELOPED A NEW METHOD TO QUICKLY SPOT ENDANGERED MARSH AREAS. I TALKED TO HIM IN HIS OFFICE VIA THE INTERNET.

 HIS IDEA WAS TO SEE IF THEY COULD ASCERTAIN THE STABILITY OF A WETLAND BY MEASURING THE SEDIMENT COMING IN OR OUT OF IT. WE CHOSE BLACKWATER NATIONAL WILDLIFE REFUGE BECAUSE IT WAS ALREADY KNOWN TO BE REALLY UNSTABLE.

 DR GANJU WAS ALSO LOOKING FOR A WAY TO GET AROUND TIME-CONSUMING SEDIMENT MEASUREMENTS AND THIS IS THE NEW DISCOVERY. HE LOOKED AT AREAL PHOTOS OF VEGETATION VS OPEN WATER.
NEIL GANJU:
SO AFTER THE INITIAL STUDY AT BLACKWATER, WE WENT AROUND THE COUNTRY TO A BUNCH OF OTHER WETLANDS AND MADE THESE SAME MEASUREMENTS AND WE FOUND THAT THESE MEASUREMENTS SCALES REALLY WELL WITH HOW MUCH OF THAT MARSH IS VEGETATED VERSUS OPEN WATER OR PONDS.
USGS pictures of Blackwater show the loss of marshland over the decades.

USGS pictures of Blackwater show the loss of marshland over the decades.

YOU CAN SEE DR GANJU’S IDEA FROM THE AIR. IT’S PRETTY EASY TO SEE WHERE THE OPEN WATER IS, AND WHERE THE WATER BASED PLANTS ARE.

GANJU FOUND THAT JUST BY LOOKING AT THE RATIO OF OPEN WATER TO VEGETATION HE COULD TELL AN ENDANGERED MARSH FROM ONE THAT WAS DOING OK. BLACKWATER HAS BEEN A WILDLIFE REFUGE FOR NEARLY 85 YEARS AND THERE ARE PLENTY OF AERIAL PHOTOS. THOSE PICTURES CONFIRMED WHAT THE DATA COLLECTED IN THE PAST SHOW: BLACKWATER’S NUMBERS  ARE NOT GOOD. 
DR NEIL GANJU:
SOME WORK IN THE 80’S BY HORN POINT LAB BASICALLY DOCUMENTED THE INSTABILITY OF THE WETLAND COMPLEX AT BLACKWATER AND DECIDED THAT THE CAUSES WERE THE INVASIVE RODENTS THAT DESTABILISED THE MARSH ROOTS THERE AND SEA LEVEL RISE, AND THE CONSTRUCTION OF THE ROAD AT SHORTER’S WHARF , AND THAT WORK REALLY FIRST QUANTIFIED HOW MUCH SEDIMENT WAS COMING IN AND OUT DUE TO STORMS.
 
YOU CAN EASILY SEE THE CHANGES TODAY. SEE THE DEAD TREES AROUND THE EDGE OF THIS TREE ISLAND. THAT’S FROM RISING SALT WATER. THAT LEAD ME TO MY LAST QUESTION TO DR GANJU: HOW WILL BLACKWATER LOOK IN THE FUTURE? 
DR NEIL GANJU:
THE ESTIMATES BASICALLY SUGGEST THAT BETWEEN 80 AND A HUNDRED YEARS FROM NOW THE SEDIMENT THAT’S REMAINING IN THE MARSH WILL LIKELY BE GONE.
WILL THE BLACKWATER MOVE UPLAND INTO THE PRESENT FOREST OR WILL IT DISAPPEAR? GANJU SAYS THERE IS NO ANSWER TO THAT YET, BUT ONE THING FOR SURE. WHILE BLACK WATER HAS CHANGED A LOT IN ITS FIRST 80 YEARS, IT WILL CHANGE MUCH MORE DRAMATICALLY IN THE NEXT 80.