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In the Field with Dr. Carlos Ramos-Scharrón and Matthew C. LaFevor

Connecting Terrestrial Runoff with Marine Degradation in St. John

Posted: September 11, 2013
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Increased runoff derived from unpaved road networks of U.S. Virgin Islands represents a critical source of stress to the nearshore reef systems of the VI National Park and Coral Reef National Monument

During the month of August, Department of Geography & the Environment researchers Dr. Carlos Ramos-Scharrón and Matthew LaFevor spent several weeks on St. John with local resident Bruce Swanson releasing a new research project to characterize surface runoff connectivity between land-based sediment sources and the marine environment. The team deployed a network of peak crest gauges to characterize the runoff responses of both undisturbed areas and areas affected by road runoff. The crest gauges allow for documentation of how antagonistic anthropogenic activities, like road building and watershed restoration activities, affect the delivery of runoff and sediments from terrestrial systems to coastal waters. This new research is funded by NOAA’s Coral Reef Restoration group and is implemented through a partnership with the University of San Diego, the Island Resources Foundation, and the Department of Geography at UT-Austin. The study is likely to become the research topic of a future Geography graduate student.

Ramos-Scharrón and LaFevor also opened the possibility of new lines of inquiry into past and present land uses on the island. One potential project could be devoted to investigating the remnants of abandoned agricultural systems associated with inland cultivation during the Danish colonial period. Most of the island, now covered with secondary vegetation, was cultivated between 1740 and 1815. The researchers pondered questions related to irrigation in this tropical dry environment where water is consistently in short supply. The group also identified the remnants of spring-fed diversion dams and canal systems along the island’s interior network of ephemeral streams. Further research into historical water management on the island may shed new light on its environmental history. Better understanding of past systems may also provide lessons for improved freshwater access in the future, which continues to be of major concern to residents and tourism-based commerce.

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