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In the Field with Drs. Ramos-Scharrón and LaFevor: Land/Sea Hydrologic Connectivity in the US Virgin Islands

Posted: August 21, 2014
Coral Bay, St. John

Coral Bay, St. John

During the first three weeks of August 2014, Department of Geography & the Environment Assistant Professor Carlos Ramos-Scharrón and recent graduate Matthew LaFevor conducted fieldwork on St. John in the US Virgin Islands. Accelerated delivery of sediments associated with land development represents a threat to coral reefs surrounding the island, many of which lie within the VI National Park and the VI Coral Reef National Monument. The main objective for this field season was to better characterize the hydrologic connectivity between the land and sea by way of surface runoff in the Coral Bay watershed. Along with research assistant Matthew Rasmussen, the team installed a series of stream and peak-stage gauging stations to better understand runoff response and land-sea hydrologic connectivity as it is altered by land development and watershed restoration activities. Critical as a runoff and sediment source on St. John is its network of unpaved roads, and as part of this field season researchers also conducted experiments to document their hydrologic behavior. Unpaved road surfaces and soils overlying currently forested hillslopes were assessed at forty different locations for saturated hydraulic conductivity with a Guelph permeameter to better understand the mechanisms that generate overland flow on the island.

The current land development scenario does not represent the first time that this landscape and its hydrologic behavior have been altered by human activities. As most islands in the Caribbean, St. John’s plantation era ruins serve as a memento of the extensive cultivation of sugar cane, cotton, and other crops during the 18th and 19th centuries. Researchers are beginning to look into interdisciplinary approaches to weigh the impacts of current practices in light of the historical exploitation of both terrestrial and marine resources in islands of the Eastern Caribbean.

Season two was funded by NOAA’s Coral Reef Restoration group and was implemented through a partnership with the University of San Diego, the Island Resources Foundation, and the Department of Geography and the Environment at UT-Austin. The ongoing study is likely to become the research topic of a future Geography graduate student.

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