Notes from the Field: An Educational Swamp Tour

Students listen to Dean Stacie Haynie (standing) of the College of Humanities and Social Sciences discuss possibilities at LSU.

JUL 31, 2017    by CLAY TUCKER

For three weeks every summer, undergraduate students from the South Central United States, representing a wide range of cultural backgrounds participate in the “Undergraduate Summer Internship for Underrepresented Minorities” program to visit and learn about climate impacts in the South Central Climate Science Center Region (SC CSC). This year participants spent the balmy month of July starting at Louisiana State University, moving to the University of Oklahoma, and finally ending their trip at Texas Tech University. I have helped with this internship from my home institution (LSU) in various capacities for the past four years under the leadership of Drs. Kristine DeLong and Victor Rivera-Monroy. As a graduate student, I have been largely responsible for technical assistance (e.g., driving vans, coordinating lunches, assisting students with tasks). However, I also get the more exciting tasks of sharing my LSU-learned Gulf Coast knowledge, and, as a native Louisianimal, I get to coordinate different events along the way that I know will represent Louisiana well!

The majority of climate-related issues here in Louisiana are primarily associated with sea-level rise, and our week with the undergraduates delves deeply into those subjects. The trip begins with a tour of LSU campus concentrating on its lush vegetation and its natural and cultural histories, as well as a tour of our facilities, especially those involved with our coast. Next, they get a true set of swamp tours beginning at the coast, moving inland to freshwater swamps, and finally the cultural swamp – New Orleans. The students meet nearly 100 different people along the way: professors, land managers, climate scientists, decision makers, other students, you name it! The week is chock full of work at each location and for everyone involved. Below is a series of photos documenting the summer program activities.

Dr. Mike Polito (wearing blue shirt) of the Department of Oceanography and Coastal Studies discusses his research in marine food-web biology.
Students take elevation measurements of a rapidly subsiding barrier island 10 miles offshore.
Mangroves are beginning to migrate into coastal Louisiana – a direct result of rising temperatures. Avicennia germinans (black mangrove) cannot survive the freezing temperatures that once existed in South Louisiana.
Dr. Victor Rivera-Monroy (far left) teaches students how to take sediment cores to learn about sediment accretion, plant biology, and soil biogeochemistry in saltwater marshes.
Kristen Buter (far right) of Louisiana Universities Marine Consortium leads students on a kayak tour of classic Louisiana saltwater marshes.
Students receive a very rare opportunity to visit a shrimp processor in Dulac, Louisiana. Mr. Tracey Trahan (far left) even boiled some authentically fresh Louisiana shrimp for us!
Dr. Victor Rivera-Monroy (center background) again shows students about sediment coring, only this time he shows them the differences in a freshwater swamp heavily accreting sediment.
The Atchafalaya Swamp, the largest cypress-tupelo swamp in the world, is an ideal spot for lunch.
Dr. Barry Keim of LSU (far left) leads a 14-hour tour of New Orleans covering everything from Lake Pontchartrain to the French Quarter. Here he stops to explain the unique nature of burial history in New Orleans.
A sunset walk from the Mississippi River down to Bourbon Street completes the weeklong swamp tour.
It seems the only rest available during the internship is during the van rides!

Photo credits to Marissa Vara and Gilman Ouellette.

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