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Washington College and UMD College Park Collaborate on Research

Washington College environmental science students have embarked on an innovative collaboration with agroecology students from the University of Maryland, College Park (UMD) to gather long-term data into whether sea level rise is bringing more saltwater into the Eastern Shore’s agricultural fields.

Rebecca Fox, Assistant Professor of Environmental Science and Studies at Washington College, came up with the idea with her friend and collaborator Kate Tully, Assistant Professor of Agroecology at UMD’s Department of Plant Science & Landscape Architecture. On a farm on the lower Chester River, Fox and her students installed eight groundwater wells equipped with data loggers that record data every 15 minutes, including temperature, salinity, and depth.

Last fall, the two groups of students met with the landowner to talk about changes he has seen already and examine how the groundwater wells work. Then they split up and created podcasts about the research, learning how to collaborate with each other remotely, as is frequently the case in science.

Though looking at the same data, the classes are approaching the research from slightly different perspectives. The UMD agroecology students are focused on agriculture and food production, but also on soil health and the entire agricultural system, while the WC students, with their focus in environmental science, are thinking more broadly and about other aspects than just traditional agriculture.

“We’re hoping we can use this data that will be collected over the next five to ten years to monitor whether saltwater is intruding into the farm fields,” Fox said. “The goal is to bring our classes together every fall to the farm to do this research project and to look at the data.”