An Introduction to Certified Organic Carbon

Carbon is everywhere, in almost everything. It comes in different forms and phases and provides the key backbone element to all things living. Yet, in many cases, we haven’t put all the pieces together to understand how it moves through an environment, even one as close to home as the coastal ocean. How does this essential element move from the coastal ocean inland? (You may think I’m just referring to the sandy beaches along our coastline, but the coastal environment is so much more than that… beaches and marshes and estuaries, oh my!) And how does this carbon, existing in various forms and groups, move in and out of specific environments, like from a marshy wetland to a large estuary? We don’t really know… well, not yet.


Taskinas Creek in York River State Park.

That’s what my graduate research focuses on, the flux (or movement, if you will) of various carbon pools in and out of a small marsh into a larger estuary. I look at all types of carbon pools, from organic (from organisms, such as fish, marsh plants, humans) to inorganic (from the atmosphere, soils, etc.), and from particulate to dissolved. Understanding this movement of carbon in such an environment will help us to understand how these coastal environments affect the carbon budget, carbon cycling, and even carbon dioxide concentrations in the atmosphere. While that information is valuable, I’m also looking at where this carbon came from. My lab uses tools called “biomarkers” which are basically molecules and compounds that are from a specific source. There are a lot of biomarkers available, so we can determine if the water I sample is from a forested area, a marsh, an estuary, the coastal ocean, a human impacted region, etc. Biomarkers are amazing (and I’ll talk about them in more detail in a later post). So, in my project, we will not only measure these fluxes, but we’ll also describe them in great detail.

So why am I doing all this? Why do I spend 25 hours a month in the field to collect ~175 liters of water? Because coastal ecosystems are immensely important to the ocean. Estuaries are vital to coastal systems because they serve as a filter to remove toxins and particulates from the water, they act as buffer zones and protect the surrounding land from large storms, and so much more. And with all this importance, we still don’t understand these systems fully. We don’t know what any type of climate change will do to the amount of carbon produced in these systems, we don’t understand how storm events may change the carbon cycle there, and so much more. Marshes and estuaries are key to the survival of coastal ecosystems, and the more we understand about them, the better we can utilize and protect them.

The purpose of this blog will be to explain what my research is all about, with exciting updates from the field and the lab, with additional posts explaining key concepts from my work (estuaries, biomarkers, carbon cycle, etc.) It is my goal to show the importance and beauty of estuaries and marshes and to show what the life of a marine science graduate student looks like. So follow along, I’ll try to post at least 1-2 times a month and keep everyone updated with the exciting life here in the lab and field!