2021 Exploration and Field Research Grant Recipients

2021 Exploration and Field Research Grant Recipients

Tomos Llywelyn Evans, (Ph.D.), The College of William and Mary, Anthropology, “Uncovering an earthen giant: Sungbo’s Eredo and the socio-political dynamics of Ijebu”, Nigeria
The proposed project will consist of a three-month archaeological field season aimed at developing scientific knowledge of what is thought to be Africa’s largest single monument: the massive, but little understood, 100-mile-long early earthwork system of Sungbo’s Eredo that extends through the forests of southern Nigeria. Fieldwork will be undertaken in order to obtain a variety of scientific data (chronological, material cultural, and stratigraphic) that will help answer key questions about the historical socio-political significance of this massive but still enigmatic monument. These pertain to the chronology of the earthwork’s construction and use, the organization of the earthwork’s construction, and the functions and meanings of the earthwork to the local Ijebu people who generated it and lived in its vicinity. These considerations will offer insights into larger debates about the nature of power and the state in the social sciences, and the ways in which socio-political institutions may generate monumental architecture and vice versa. The project also seeks to contribute to building awareness of this incredible monument, with the hope that this will support ongoing conservation efforts and stimulate sustainable forms of tourism that will generate revenue for local communities.

Edward Andrew Hobbs, Jr., (Ph.D.), University Maryland-UMCES, Chesapeake Biological Laboratory, “Ecological and environmental impacts of nutrient loading and sea level rise on methane in a Chesapeake Bay tributary”, Maryland
Methane is a potent greenhouse gas (~25 times greater than carbon dioxide) that is naturally produced in sediments of coastal ecosystems. When methane production exceeds that of consumption, it can build up and be released to the atmosphere, contributing to global warming. Natural aquatic systems are estimated to account for as much as 7-30% of global methane emissions, and can be impacted by anthropogenic nutrient inputs and sea level rise. Where nutrient inputs are large and lead to seasonal oxygen depletion, such as in Chesapeake Bay, there is an even greater chance for methane to enter the atmosphere. One of the main sinks for methane is anaerobic methane oxidation (AMO), but it is unknown how nutrient inputs and sea level rise affect AMO and overall methane consumption in coastal ecosystems. Quantifying the amount of methane consumed by AMO is essential for estimating methane emissions to the atmosphere. The goal of this research is to directly measure and derive rates of AMO within a representative Chesapeake Bay tributary impacted by nutrient loads and sea level rise. The information gained from this project will significantly broaden our understanding of the degree to which these factors affect methane emissions from coastal ecosystems.

Calvin So, (Ph.D.), University of Maryland, Biology, “A search for fossil caecilians in the Newark Supergroup”, New Jersey, North Carolina, Virginia
Caecilians are a group of elongate, limbless, tropical, and burrowing amphibians with enigmatic evolutionary origins, and one of three living groups of amphibians next to frogs and salamanders. Currently, the morphological evolution of the caecilian body plan is obscured by a paucity of fossil caecilians, resulting in a poor understanding of how caecilians evolved a reinforced skull and an elongated body. With the available record, key morphological and evolutionary events can be inferred to occur in the temporal gap between the evolution of Late Triassic caecilian Chinlestegophis and Early Jurassic caecilian Eocaecilia. To better understand the morphological evolution of caecilians, fossils must be found to fill in the anatomical gap. The Late Triassic outcrops of the Newark Supergroup fulfill the conditions where fossil caecilians are expected; they are within the temporal gap, formerly tropical, and have previously yielded fossils of amphibian relatives. Through phylogenetic analyses, a better understanding of the relationships of caecilians and their extinct relatives can be developed. Prospecting the Newark Supergroup is a well-supported investigation for potential fossil caecilians

Nicole Trenholm, (Ph.D.), University Maryland-UMCES, Horn Point Laboratory, “Field and Satellite Observations of Deglaciated Coastline Water Quality”, Greenland
Increasing glacial meltwater contributions to the Arctic Ocean call for the development of
long-term monitoring approaches of coastal meltwater plumes. Current satellites are limited in the detection of seasonal glacial meltwater conditions. Greenland’s coastline bears nutrient-rich sediment-laden streams that discharge freshwater into the sea. This discharge influences coastal primary productivity, leading to algal blooms and carbon sequestration. The current understanding of the delivery and composition of meltwater to fjord ecosystems is limited by a lack of field studies connecting the ground biogeochemical processes to satellite data. This project will address this gap in knowledge through the use of specialized field sampling methods. This project will advance the understanding of how Greenland’s ongoing deglaciation controls the water quality of the coastal marine ecosystem. The investigation will focus on the nutrient export flux at the land-sea interface of a deglaciated landscape at Sermilik Station on the east coast of Greenland. With Mittivakkat Glacier overhead, the coastal water quality conditions influenced by land-retreated glacier meltwater discharge will be defined. These observations will aid as the foundation for a widespread deglaciated coastline water quality survey next summer along Greenland’s largest turbid meltwater plume.

Anna Windle, (Ph.D.), University Maryland-UMCES, Horn Point Laboratory, “Underwater Structure from Motion photogrammetry: A remote, rapid, and nondestructive method to monitor restored oyster reefs”, Maryland
Eastern oysters, native to Chesapeake Bay, provide critical ecosystem services to the Bay ecosystem. Due to historic over-harvesting, disease, and habitat loss, populations have drastically declined. Recognizing the importance of restoring native populations, the 2014 Chesapeake Bay Watershed Agreement included a goal to sustain shellfish populations by restoring oyster habitat in ten Chesapeake Bay tributaries by 2025. Today, an estimated 788 acres of oyster reef habitat have been restored in the five Maryland tributaries. Reefs are assessed every three and six years following restoration. These efforts use labor intensive methods that are limited by weather and water conditions, are destructive to the reef, and are expensive. Remote, rapid, and nondestructive methodologies to assess oyster reef metrics have significant potential to increase the efficiency of oyster restoration monitoring. This project aims to explore the emerging technology of underwater Structure from Motion (SfM) photogrammetry to assess the potential of large-scale oyster reef monitoring. Underwater imagery will be collected, processed through a color reconstruction algorithm to remove the effect of turbid water, and applied in SfM software to create high resolution 3D models. This proof-of-concept research has the potential to not only enhance oyster reef monitoring techniques, but also transform underwater datasets in Chesapeake Bay.

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