URI student conducts soil research at Fox Hill Marsh
Andrew Paolucci is a 22-yearold graduate student from North Kingstown. For his master’s thesis, he is conducting research at Fox Hill Marsh in Fort Getty. The object of his study is to demonstrate the effects of climate change on soil – and in turn, plants – causing them to release additional greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere.
“I’m measuring dynamic soil properties after a disturbance,” Paolucci said. “For my marsh site, I’m looking at climate change and how that affects CO2 respiration, plant biomass and decomposition rates.”
Paolucci graduated from North Kingstown High School in 2008. He went on to earn his bachelor’s degree in environmental science and management from the University of Rhode Island. He is currently working on a master’s degree in environmental and biological sciences at the school.
Paolucci defined a disturbance as an anthropogenic change, in other words, one that is man-made. As an example, Paolucci pointed to another study he’s doing in a riparian zone, which is right next to a river. There he is looking at the high nitrogen input into the river. Paolucci said there is no doubt that climate change is being accelerated by these anthropogenic processes.
To conduct his study, Paolucci has built four warming chambers – each about 1 meter in diameter – that are like small greenhouses. His goal is to raise the temperature of the soil using glass panels that are angled at 60 degrees and see how heat affects the plant biomass.
“It focuses the sunlight into the center of my plots,” he said. “If it’s warmer there is going to be more carbon uptake on the plants. If there is more biomass, there is going to be more root respiration, so there is going to be more CO2 released, which is a greenhouse gas.”
Paolucci chose Fox Hill Marsh because one of his teachers is doing a similar study. The professor is comparing a site in Warwick that has a lot of nitrogen flowing into the marsh with a site at Fort Getty, which Paolucci said is pretty clean in that regard. Based on those findings, he knew that Fox Hill Marsh was a safe site to use for his own research.
Jim Turenne of Jamestown is Rhode Island’s soil scientist for the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Turenne’s specific agency is the National Resource Conservation Service. Turenne does soil survey work in conjunction with URI, the state’s land-grant university. “Any research that is going on in soil science in Rhode Island is usually coordinated through the NRCS office. We provide funding and support for the research, study equipment, personnel and that sort of thing.”
Turenne said that since he is a local resident, when he heard that there was work going on in Jamestown, he became interested in the study. He is now trying to get additional funding so that Paolucci can expand his research to additional marshes. Turenne pointed to Round Marsh, where the NRCS is doing restoration work, as another possible study area in Jamestown.
The National Resource Conservation Service is currently working with the Jamestown Conservation Committee to rid Round Marsh of an invasive weed that grows in the marsh. His agency is providing partial funding for some of the work.
“We’ve done some detailed mapping of all of the marshes in Jamestown,” Turenne said. “Our agency puts a lot of emphasis on coastal restoration. The soil survey we’re doing is really involved in high-intensity mapping of our coastal resources there.”
According to Turenne, Paolucci did not require any special permits for the work he is doing at Fox Hill. “Usually if it’s on a marsh, and you’re not doing any filling or dredging in a wetland, there’s no permit required,” he said. “Research is pretty much exempt from any permits.”
In addition to his Jamestown warming sites, Paolucci is also conducting riparian studies on the Beaver River near the Kingston campus of URI. The Fox Hill study has been going on for approximately one month, and will continue until autumn. Paolucci’s thesis on the research will not be done for two years, which means he is likely to put the warming chambers back out next summer in an effort to collect additional data.
Although his research will continue for quite awhile, Paolucci was confident in the outcome of the study. “I think that the warming chambers will result in an increase of biomass because it’s going to be warmer,” he said. “There are going to be higher levels of CO2 at each of the warming sites.”
Paolucci has also made small mesh litterbags. He uses the bags to collect plant material, which is brought back to the lab and dried out. He intends to study the material to measure decomposition rates and to determine if the warming has accelerated the decomposition process.